October 2008

Breaking Down a Whole Monkfish
Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Morimoto – New York, NY

In a formidable display of technique at the 2008 International Chefs Congress, Chef Masaharu Morimoto butchered a whole monkfish hanging off a hook and transformed it into 6 “head-to-tail” dishes in front of the main stage audience. According to Morimoto Chef de Cuisine Jamison Blankenship, this technique is done about six times per year at Morimoto in New York and is part of the training program for head sushi chefs. Chef Morimoto’s six monkfish dishes do make seasonal appearances on the menu, in particular the hot pot of miso-flavored dashi with fin and egg sack.  

While Chef Morimoto has had a special hook installed above the sink at the sushi bar in his Tokyo restaurant, the cooks in New York will typically perform this procedure in the kitchen using the same type of hook used to hang ducks in the walk-in. For the monkfish, a sturdy hook setup with a heavy base is essential, and Chef Blankenship also recommends using a reliable, sharp knife, along with another heavier pointed knife (rather than a cleaver) for hacking away at the collar bone and thicker bone and cartilage. A clean work surface is also a must. “Stuff is going to fall out of it”, Blankenship warns, so make sure to have a large tray or bucket under your work area.

Photos: Michael H. Turkell
+ click images to enlarge

Step 1: Insert a hook into the lower jaw of the monkfish and attach to an arm clamped onto a 6-8 foot stand. The monkfish should be suspended above a prep table or bucket on the floor.

Step 2: Using a sharp knife, cut around the fins on each side of the monkfish and remove.

Step 3: Remove skin: starting at the upper jaw, make incisions parallel to the jaw bone and work your way around the mouth, cutting and gently loosening the skin using your fingers. Continue pulling skin away from carcass while using the knife to carefully cut connective tissue. Work your way down the body until the skin is loose enough to pull downwards using both hands. Pull the skin entirely off the fish.

Step 4: Using a larger knife to split the thicker pieces of bone, remove the rib cage on the front of the fish starting at the collar bone.

Step 5: Remove the gills and collar bone. Clean and split the gills in half.

Step 6: Slice halfway down the lower front of the monkfish and remove internal organs.

Step 7: Remove the cheek meat from the head of the fish.

Step 8: Cutting along the spine, remove the fillets from either side of the fish.


Blowfish Carpaccio with Monkfish Liver Ponzu Sauce

Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Morimoto – New York, NY
From Morimoto, The New Art of Japanese Cooking by Masaharu Morimoto (DK Publishing, 2007)
Adapted by StarChefs.com

Yield: 4 Servings


    Blowfish Carpaccio with Monkfish Liver Ponzu Sauce by chefs Morimoto on StarChefs.comMonkfish Liver Pate (Yield: 1 pound/450 grams):
  • 1 pound (450g) fresh monkfish liver*
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup sake

    Ponzu Sauce (Yield: 2 cups):
  • 1/3 lemon
  • ¼ orange
  • 1 cup ponzu juice
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 6 tablespoons mirin
  • 5 ounces (150g) bonito flakes
  • 2 sheets of kombu, 4x8 inches (10 x 20 cm) each, broken in half

    Monkfish Liver-Ponzu Sauce (Yield: 1/3 cup):
  • ¼ cup monkfish liver pate (from above)
  • 2 tablespoons ponzu sauce (from above)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Salt

    To Assemble and Serve:
  • 4 ounces (100g) blowfish fillet or another sashimi-quality fine white fish, such as monkfish, fluke or red snapper
  • 3 tablespoons monkfish liver-ponzu sauce
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons baby cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons shaved white truffle or 1 tablespoon white truffle oil


For the Monkfish Liver Pate:
Put the monkfish liver in a bowl, salt all over, and pour in the sake. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour, turning the liver once. Rinse the liver to remove the salt and sake. Clean it, removing all blood vessels. Steam the liver for 25 minutes. Refrigerate until chilled. This can also be stored in a refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*We butcher our own fish, but you can go to a high-quality fish monger and special-order the monkfish liver, so you don’t have to remove it from the fish yourself.

For the Ponzu Sauce:
Squeeze the juice of the lemon and orange pieces into a large container.  Toss in the rinds.  Add all the remaining ingredients, cover, and refrigerate for at least a week and up to a month before using.  Strain before use

For the Monkfish Liver-Ponzu Sauce:
Blend together the monkfish liver pate, ponzu sauce, and soy sauce. Season with salt to taste.

To Assemble and Serve:
Slice the fish fillet very thinly and arrange on a heatproof plate.  Drizzle the Monkfish Liver Ponzu Sauce over the fish.  In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil until it just begins to smoke.  Quickly and carefully, pour the hot oil over the fish slices to sear them.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and shaved white truffle or a drizzle of truffle oil.

  Published: October 2008