The Wisdom of the Monk part 1 – Monkfish Cheeks in Black Bean and Chili Sauce.

Monkfish Cheeks This is part one in a two-part series that I have decided to run. Those of you of a more mature vintage will remember David Carradine in the 1970s TV series Kung Fu. You will remember the slow pace of things and the blind master imparting pearls of wisdom to his understudy Carradine. The younger amongst you will now be thinking about Kung Fu Panda and feeling warm and excited about the cuddly characters. I find that very sad. If you fall into the ‘more recent vintage category you need to play this to gain true enlightenment for reading this post.

You can see that when the student wants elucidation, he turns to the sagacious monk. You may think that this is a pretty tenuous link because I have been using it purely to set up two excellent monkfish recipes. However, try them and you too will gain insight and cultural enhancement.

First I want to revisit the best bit of value there is in seafood and cook Monkfish Cheeks in Black Bean Sauce with Chili and Coriander. The monk cheeks are a fantastic, undervalued and thankfully, under priced part of this most ugly of fish. I have cooked them before. See it here.

Monkfish cheeks

Monkfish cheeks and a wise choice of supporting ingredients.

To cook this for four people, you will need:

  • 400 grammes of monkfish cheeks
  • A yellow and a red chill (that’s what was in the fridge)
  • A fistful of coriander
  • A handful of fermented or salted black beans
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • As much ginger a garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch / cornflour diluted in about 3 tablespoons of water
  • Oil for frying
  • Rice to serve

First, remove any membrane from the cheeks. Next, put the black beans in hot water to reconstitute them. Chop the ginger, spring onions, chilis and the garlic pretty fine.

The chopped ingredients and the black beans. The black beans only need a squash with the back of a knife.

The chopped ingredients and the black beans. The black beans only need a squash with the back of a knife.

Drain the black beans and roughly squash them. We want them to maintain some of their shape and substance. We don’t want a paste. Heat the wok.

Wisdom from the Monk: Adding the oil when the wok is hot. This helps prevent anything sticking. One should always heat a wok or pan before adding oil.  

Add the ginger and garlic and stir until the aroma rises. Add the spring onions and chili. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute. Add the squashed black beans.

Until you cook this, you will not appreciate the heady mix of aromas.

Until you cook this, you will not appreciate the heady mix of aromas.

Add the monkfish and cook for another couple of minutes.

Monkfish cheeks

The fish cheeks added and covered in the lovely ingredients. Wise decision indeed.

Add the soy and rice wine. Stir for a minute or so. Add as much of the cornstarch mixture as you need to get a nice consistency to the sauce.

Wisdom of the Monk 2: When adding any thickening ingredient to an oriental dish, don’t fret if it gets too thick. Simply add some water and soy sauce to thin it down. More sauce is rarely a bad thing.

At the last minute, chop and add the coriander.

Monkfish cheeks

More heady aromas from the coriander. Time to serve it is NOW!

Serve it over the rice.

Wisdom of the Monk 3: Cook the rice ahead of the monkfish cheeks. They take only  a couple of minutes to stir-fry. The rice will stay warm in the pot, if you leave the lid on.

Monkfish cheeks

Monkfish cheeks prepared this way are a very wise choice.

I feel that I have gained wisdom from the Monk. I pass it to you as the chef passes food to the diner, if you don’t mind me confusing my metaphors.

Future wisdom: My second instalment in the Wisdom of the Monk series will feature Monkfish Wellington, my fishy take on the British beef classic. 

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  • Deliciously done, Conor.

    • Thanks Rosemary. I will have part two later in the week.

  • Was worth it still being up and at work to see this fall in the box 🙂 ! Don’t know I’ll be able to access monkfish but the recipe will work just fine with other meaty fillets! Oh am old enough to have watched King Fu but never had time or desire: perhaps by now I have the maturity to do so 😀 !

  • Delicious! The heads are great for stock too 😉

    • I have a related post (stock related) to go out soon. It features Marco Pierre White. I have also noticed that my “One Man’s Meat” is nearly all fish of late. I must do something about that. In fact, typing this has given me an angle for a chicken dish that I have cooked and shot but not written. Thanks for the inspiration MD!

  • A very wise dish indeed, Grasshopper. I look forward to future enlightenment.

  • I was wondering if grasshoppers might be in the ingredient list somewhere 🙂 Very nice result otherwise. BTW… what is the Silk Road Shaoxing like? I don’t recognize that brand.

    • It is a ‘middle of the silk road’ kind of product. I believe it is a UK distributor brand rather than anything exotic.

  • Looking forward to the take on the the wellington!

    • There is more ‘real world’ wisdom in the wellington post. Out Thursday.

  • Halibut cheeks are spectacular too, if you ever happen upon them. (Sadly, not such a good value anymore now that the foodie world has discovered them.)

    • Halibut is hard enough to get here. The cheeks are in the ‘no chance’ category. I am on a promise for some cod cheeks from large cod. I wait in hope.

  • Magic recipe. You are very wise indeed. Fish cheeks very tasty.

    • Thank you. I remember the original Kung Fu series. Even back then, it was ponderous and always promising some violence but never delivering. That was wise of the producers as it was pretty successful.

  • So many (TV related) memories! I used to watch Kung Fu with my father. It was good then but now, God it’s crap. (I tried watching The Professionals again a while ago and couldn’t believe how rubbish it looks now). But the best show at that time was Monkey. He had a side kick called Pigsy. (it was a Chinese import i think). Now there’s a tenuous link – maybe chinese pork. In fact I’ve got a pork dish in the pipeline and now you’ve given me a hook – cheers! (PS Monkey was probably after your time, by a couple of years….)

    • Sadly not. As a youngish man, I remember Monkey had a bit of a cult following amongst us lot. They were always on the way somewhere when they would be attacked by evil ones wearing black. Happy times!

  • I’ve never seen monkfish cheeks for sale, only cod. I like the other ingredients you’ve used, seems very tasty! Looking forward to the Wellington 🙂 Love the wisdom — another great post, Conor!

    • Thanks Stefan, I think the wellington is better, if I am allowed an opinion on my own stuff. I will post it on Thursday and the world can judge.

  • Yes, I remember the series. I even went to several Kung Fu films at the time.
    Have heard of that cut but I’ve never cooked it. Recipe sounds great!

    • The cheeks are the most delicious piece of the fish. IF you get the opportunity to try them – DO!

  • Kung Fu? Talk about a blast from the past, Conor! This dish sounds wonderful but I doubt I’ll ever find monk cheeks or cod cheeks around here. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found guanciale (cured hog cheeks) last year. Even so, the recipe is a good one and I’ll just find a substitute. I’m sure I’ll be very happy with it. Thanks!

    • Thank you John. I suppose, given that I well remember the series, I too am a ‘blast from the past’.

  • Oh Connor, looks delicious and beautiful! Love that shot with your ingredients sizzling in the black wok.

  • We eat cod cheeks here, quite a bit. Monk fish use to be a relatively inexpensive fish besides sword fish a few years back, like 2 years or so. Now, they are the same price as tuna and halibut. I bet the cheeks are delish and you have chosen a recipe well worth it! I wish we got monkfish cheeks here.

    • Monk is not cheap here but the cheeks are. As soon as enough fashionistas discover them, I will have to give them up as the price will jump.

  • Now there’s a flashback! I was still pretty young 😉 but back then I loved Kung Fu, along with Monkey and, for some strange reason, the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. I think it was the concept of having a pet bear…

    Lovely looking oriental dish though. A favorite pub in Newcastle serves monkfish cheeks breaded as a bar snack and they’re very popular.

    Can I also comment on the beautifully seasoned wok too (my transformation to complete cooking nerd is complete).

    • Thanks Phil, I remember Grizzly Adams too. Though, he struck me as not being violent enough for my adolescent tastes. Monk cheeks breaded sounds delicious. The wok cost me a tenner about 20 years ago and has served very well since. Similar are available in any half decent Chinese supermarket. Though, I doubt the price is still the same.

      • Actually saw some the other day in a Chinese supermarket and in fairness, they’re not that much more. Time to invest..

        • Post a photo. The art of seasoning the wok is a really important part of it. It takes ages to get the layers of oil bonded with the steel. Well worth it though as it will last a lifetime.

          • Certainly will Conor. I feel a project coming on and will be back to confer!

          • Excellent!

  • I won’t try and snatch the pebble from your hand – because I think I am ready to have a go at this recipe!!

    • Snatch away Maria. I’d love to see the outcome.

  • I am truly enlightened, as usual. The wisdom you provide is invaluable. (And inspiring: I haven’t used my wok in ages; I think it’s time I did.) Can’t wait to see part 2.

    • Get the wok out Tommy. There are numerous delights awaiting. I will be doing something similar with chicken soon.

      • With chicken! You said the magic word.

  • Hmmm…”let joy come unasked, unplanned.” We all must remember the teachings of the master to the grasshopper. Great show and fun post. Love the monkfish cheek stir fry. I imagine the taste was heavenly. Like others, however, I am unable to find monkfish cheeks. Occasionally, I can find monkfish tails but they are generally not quite as fresh as I would like.

    • Thanks Richard. Monkfish is definitely one that you need very fresh. The cheeks are hard enough to get as they can be popular. You will just have to visit Ireland with Baby Lady so I can cook them for you.

      • Actually, Ireland is a destination Baby Lady & I both want to visit, So, when, not if, we go, you are definitely the first person on the list to visit. Baby Lady is dying to show you her technique on pouring shots. 😉 Also, there is the issue of the distant hen relative that we must check in on. Hetty would never forgive us otherwise. 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you.

  • Looks delicious, as always. But, I’m far too young to remember Kung Fu. 😉

    • Ha!

    • Trust me Michelle, you are not missing an awful lot. Though it was fun at the time.

      • Ken is having a little fun at my expense, Conor. Because he knows that Kung Fu ran during my prime TV viewing years!

  • Really nice approach to monkfish. Since we never see the cheeks (Okay, I’ve never seen them sold here) I have to content myself to trying it with sliced cross-sections of the body which, given the texture, should work just fine. Nice recipe. Ken

    • Give that a go. Though I have a post coming up soon that will help the cheekless.

  • Hi Conor. Love your wit and your recipes. I could go through and “like” every single one. We have some fabulous monkfish available here in Seattle. Perhaps I’ll go pick one up now that I have a recipe. And oh yes…Kung Fu. Watched many episodes!

    • Thanks for the kind words. Good to see you are not making the “can’t get monkfish” excuse too. It is one of my favourites.

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