The Wisdom of the Monk part 2 – Monkfish Wellington

Monkfish Wellington (1 of 1)Those of you who have read part 1 of this 2 part mini series will possibly be expecting some word play and banter around the general ‘Wisdom’ theme. Sorry to disappoint but, I am not going there again. No, this time I am going to impart some gathered wisdom around dinner party behaviour. First, I will back-fill with a little tale from my distant memory. 

We had been invited to a ‘dinner party’. For a couple of reasons, my enthusiasm was not at its highest. Firstly, we got the invitation to make up the numbers for a friend of a friend. I knew the host vaguely and was not particularly enamoured by his company. Secondly, he had his own cross to bear in that his ‘other half’ was (and possibly still is) an appalling snob. I don’t operate well in such company. Long before dinner was served, I had ebbed into a state of numbness, not interested in the whittering conversation revolving around house prices, brand name shopping and exotic holidays. I have to admit that perhaps I had also allowed myself be over-served.

The meal began with a completely forgettable starter. My memory is of high-pitched, overbearing social discourse pummeling my senses. When our main course eventually arrived, a beautiful Monkfish Wellington was placed in the centre of the table, amongst the Waterford Crystal and designer silverware. “It’s monkfish, if you haven’t heard of it.” chirped our hostess. Before I had time to stop myself, I had asked the question; “Do you know what they called monkfish when I was a lad?”. “No, do tell us.” replied the hostess, seeming delighted that I had decided to join in the conversation. “Poor man’s lobster.” came my reply.

After a pretty embarrassing ten seconds or so, I went on to explain that it had not been a popular fish. It had also been used, by some unscrupulous restaurateurs, instead of prawns, in scampi. I also pointed out that many fishing boats would simply throw back the ugly fish. A fairly frosty atmosphere descended, the dinner did not really recover and to my eternal relief, I never saw that woman again.

Now for the wisdom bit. Three pieces of advice based on my experience.

  1. Don’t go to dinner with social-climbing snobs.
  2. Don’t swill too much gin before eating.
  3. Don’t diss the monkfish.

By way of paying homage to the ugly brute (not the snob woman) I am doing my own version of Monkfish Wellington with Beetroot Purée. There are not a lot of ingredients and I managed to show them all in the photo below.Monkfish Wellington

You will need:

  • A nice piece of monkfish. This half kilo served four with plenty over.
  • A roll of puff pastry
  • Plenty of spinach
  • Parma or Serrano ham to wrap the fish
  • A generous handful of pine nuts 
  • A handful of basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 or 5 beetroot
  • Some olive oil

There aren’t many ingredients and there is very little to doing this delicious dish. First thing is to peel and chop the beetroot. Then add some olive oil.


The olive oil was a gift from an Italian friend of mine. Beautiful oil, probably wasted this way.

Roast this in a 200° C oven for 30 minutes. It will come out looking like this.

Beetroot roasted

Beetroot is very good for you. Spending time with social climbers is not. Go with the beetroot.

Next, throw it into the blender and make a nice thick purée.


I managed to mix the beetroot better than I mix socially.

Next prepare the monkfish by trimming off the tail.

Monkfish Wellington

The little tail-piece makes a lovely snack for the chef. Leave it a little longer on the pan.

Season the fish with black pepper and brown it on a hot pan.

Monkfish Wellington

It doesn’t look like much just yet. But wait, we need to add the layers…

While the fish is resting, roast some pine nuts in the oven for 5 minutes.

Pine nuts

They are a very expensive nut but well worth the money. They add a beautiful flavour.

When roasted, bash them into a paste along with the basil leaves.

Pine nuts

The nuts have taken on a beautiful golden brown colour.

Lay out a layer of ham on a chopping board, overlapping each slice something like in the picture.

Serano Ham

We need the ham to add flavour and to act as a barrier between wet ingredients and the pastry.

At this stage, you have washed, steamed and drained the spinach. Time for a culinary and health tip.

Cook’s health tip: Once drained, extract excess moisture from spinach by squeezing it  in a colander. Use a bowl to do the squeezing. Catch the juice in another bowl. This will give the chef a green, nutritious drink, packed with iron and vitamins. It does not taste too wonderful but it will do you good. 

Spread a layer of basil / pine nut paste along the centre of the ham.

Monkfish Wellington

Just like overbearing conversation, you do not need much of this. It is full of flavour.

Monkfish Wellington

Add the spinach. You have to admire how I include the monkfish in the background of the shot….

Bring the monkfish centre stage. It will have leaked a bit of water at this stage. This is a good thing as we don’t want the dish to be soggy.

Monkfish Wellington

The fun bit comes now. Success or failure depends on wrapping the fish.

See what I mean? The ham is stretched to breaking point and this is very, very delicate.

Monkfish Wellington

Just like my snobbery tolerance. Stretched to breaking point…

Next, lift it on to some puff pastry. No, I did not make it myself. I bought pre rolled sheets. As you can see, I needed to do a bit of engineering to get it to fit properly.

Monkfish Wellington

Stab it to allow the steam out. At one stage I thought of doing that to the Snob Woman.

Paint it with an egg wash and throw it into a 180° C oven for 20 minutes.

Monkfish Wellington

Cook’s cooking tip: Keep the purée warm in a Bain Marie on the stove top. It worked perfectly for me.

Monkfish Wellington

The beetroot puree is a perfect match for the monkfish.

Am I any wiser after cooking this delicious dish? Yes, I think so. I am reminded that it is best to only eat with friends and if you are confronted by social snobbery, put the (Wellington) boot in.

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Latest comments
  • Seriously Conor you’re becoming my go to guy for great recipes!
    Keep up the good work, oh and can I have a heads up for next week so that I can have the shopping sorted first?
    All the best

    • Thanks Brian,
      How goes your time on the Sheep’s Head? I saw a tender for marketing the walks etc in the area recently. They should really just talk to you.

      • Thanks Conor, would love to be involved but am only a lowly news hound! Did have a bus load of Americans call to the house recently, it seems I have fans of the blog on the other side of the Atlantic.

        • God bless the Internet. It lets us talk with and get to know people in places we will never get to.

  • It was so delicious. If vengeful dish repurposing gets this kind of result, I’m going to have to burn a lot of bridges over the next few years.

    • I’m not sure how to take that. I’ll take it as a good thing…

  • Very nice, Conor. your usual excellent storytelling and photography. I’ve only ever had the beef version, but this looks lovely and light for a summer evening. And all fish that come without fiddly bones always score extra points with me too.

    • Hi Adam,
      It really was pretty delicious. I was very happy with it. No bones about it!

  • That looks absolutely delicious! I’ve never heard of monkfish wellington before but it looks amazing and I love all the ingredients you stuffed the wellington with! Where is my invitation?! I promise I won’t talk about house prices or exotic holidays!

    • You bring the desert and you are welcome any time.

  • Wow Conor! This is absolutely beautiful and worth making! Good story. Unfortunately, I have been in the same situation too many times to count. Over the years I’ve learned to just get through it and keep my mouth shut, less I go into a rant, which has happened. That was before I learned diplomacy 😀

  • From the history of monkfish to dinner party etiquette, your wisdom knows no bounds. I’m glad you stuck it to those snobs then, and I’m glad you did it again with this recipe. Beef / Pork / Monkfish / What-have-you Wellington always seemed so time consuming, but you make it look incredibly easy – and delicious. Well done sir. You’re invited to all of my dinner parties.

    • Thanks Tommy, I may just take you up on that (and bring the family)

  • Great story Connor! And an extraordinary looking dish! With Prosciutto, pine nuts and basil, how could it not be delicious! As for the spinach juice, I just had myself a spinach/kale smoothie with apples, bananas, avocado and coconut water. Yummy!

    • Thanks Lidia. It turned out pretty well. Though there were a couple of anxious moments while it baked.

  • Beautiful!
    You should send your ex friend of friend a link 😉

  • Love it
    Give us a bigger portion please
    I am Italian I need to eat.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Peter, you are too kind. I know that you are a man who knows his fish!

  • wow, that just looks FABULOUS!

  • I sit here and laugh! I wish I was there to witness, what I would call “comedy”. That’s so funny because years ago (20+) I was encouraged to buy monkfish due to the fact it is considered “poor man’s lobster”. The encouragement came from the fishmonger. I remember buying it over and over again. I am going to pick some up again, it’s been awhile. I be back to this post for the recipe.

  • That looks killer, Conor, and I’m glad you got some benefit out of the pretentious host. I’ve made a ballotine of monkfish with serrano jamon (which was unbelievably delicious) but I never thought about a wellington. I just may have to give this a try if I can find a fresh monkfish tail. Stellar, simply stellar. I’ve bookmarked this for later reference.

    • Thanks Richard. Do give it a go if you get the chance. Is’s easy, tasty and a bit unusual too.

  • Ok, maybe it is simply because I am actually starving, but this looks like heaven! I wish I could eat at your house.

  • Fabulous post! Not only a great recipe but I loved the wit which made me chuckle. Oh yes, I’ve been there. I was invited to a dinner in the Basque country where the hostess asked my Spanish friend (sister-inlaw) to ask me if I’d eaten crab before. Yes, I’ve even worked in a crab factory. I don’t think the last bit was translated 🙂

    • Thanks Johnny, Glad I’m not alone in this….

  • LoL
    Lucky you to be the chef, literary the first person to test any every single meals…
    btw, i love monk fish for it’s succulent meat…
    cruncy like a prawn texture…
    never had threat fish in wellington dish, tempting to try……
    i guess i’m gonna make a wellington tuma tx to you Connor!

  • Yeah, I think I have been to that dinner party. And, diplomacy is not my strong suit either. The monkfish Wellington looks scrumptious!

    • Gin helps at the time but there is a price to pay.

  • What a fantastic recipe!! Now to find a substitute for monkfish!! Beef Wellington seemed the de rigeur dish at dinner parties when I first got married [yup, somewhat in the snobby set 🙂 !] but I have not thought of making it for years – love your version!! Oh, as for putting one’s foot in one’s mouth . . . I still tend to be the mistress of that, and always meaning things in a funny, innocent way . . . don’t agonize over it any more tho’ . . .

    • Age has it’s benefits. The older I get, the less I care what people think of me. Not that they ever think much about me in the first place.

      • Would you perchance be fishing for a weekend compliment, Milord? 😀 !

  • What a stunning main dish. Perfect for any gathering no matter who you are entertaining. I also love your measurements. Very similar to mine, a little dash of this and that and to taste. Are you on pin interest? I am going to pin this one. Wishing you a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

  • At a young age, I was taught , “Don’t ask the question if you don’t want the answer.” Too bad the snob wasn’t taught the same — but then you wouldn’t have this great story to tell. 🙂
    What a fantastic dish to prepare and serve, Conor! Man, that’s impressive! Another great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks John for the insightful wisdom and the compliment. It makes doing this stuff more worthwhile.

  • You eat very well! Very nice recipe. I may want to try this with cod as we don’t seem to get monk fish that much. I love the addition of the basil and pine nuts in this.

  • Oh to be a fly on that wall! That was a brilliant response. 🙂 A fabulous recipe as well. I was curious when you first mentioned it but it’s a beautiful dish.

  • That really does look wonderful – what a fantastic recipe. I love the beetroot too.

    • Thanks Georgina. Good of you to say so. It’s easy and tastes pretty good.

  • Great post, Conor! I did monkfish Wellington a few years ago, but didn’t brown the fish first and didn’t include a steam vent. The pastry turned out crispy on top, but soggy below. I like the use of spinach and pine nuts. Rosemary would also work well with this. A digital thermometer with its probe inserted into the center of the fish would be a great help to cook this just right.

    I know that monkfish used to be called poor man’s lobster. Both taste and texture do indeed remind me a bit of lobster. Great story, reminds me of something I could have said 😉 In classifieds a century ago potential housekeepers were promised they would only have to eat salmon once a week, a poor man’s fish back then.

    • PS Really like how to the puff pastry turned out uniformly golden. Great picture.

      • Thanks Stefan. When the harbour at Dun Laoghaire was being built the century before last, the labourers had a similar clause in their terms. By the way, have smoked my first piece of salmon. I will mail you an image. It was really fantastic. I will be doing a hot smoked salmon lunch for the office team next week. Another benefit of the trip to Amsterdam.

        • Great! I still remember the first time I tried the smoker with salmon. Couldn’t believe how good it was, given how easy it was to do. I even got people who usually hate fish to love hot smoked salmon. The people at the office will love you!

  • Love it! Cut down to size in a single comment. The very definition of a ‘knowledge bomb’.

    This is just the sort of thing I go for in restaurants – looks delicious. I’ll be using the parma ham damp-proofing tip too – I did a similar dish with cod and filo pastry than was a little soggy underneath (although there were no vents either…)

    • Thanks Phil, I like that expression ‘knowledge bomb’.
      The venting helps (in both the situation and the preparation).

  • This looks fabulous! Now my stomach is growling!

    • Very easy to do and it does look pretty good, if I say so myself.

  • Wow, this looks great! I’ve only had monkfish only a handful of times (once in Belfast actually) since it is not served very often around here, but it is a really nice fish!

    • It’s worth eating when you can get it. Delicious fish.

  • Looks Fabulous, planing on making one tomorrow, came across page this while sanity-checking my ideas for a recipe. By the end i had tears running down my face (of laughter). you sound just like me when i get dragged out to some god-awful evening with a load of hoity toity up their own proverbial blabber boxes!

    • Excellent description Carl. The only additional advice I can give is to be sure to get the spinach as dry as possible. Let me know how it turns out.

      • Hi, That went as well as could be expected. As yourself i used packet puff pastry, i have made my own in the past and if you have a little extra time can thoroughly recommend it, but as this was the first time i’ve wrapped a fish i thought i’d cheat a bit. I’m reasonably well versed in making a ‘normal’ Wellington but didn’t want to over complicate a 1st go!
        I see your point with the spinach (both in draining & chef’s healthy drink), without a good bit of squeezing it could turn out quite soggy. As it was the only liquid came from the fish.
        All in all, not bad. Will definitely do it again, especially if i have to need to impress some ‘foodie’ 😉
        If only i could add a picture to this…. i like to use the spare bits of puff to un-formalise a dish if i can, so my Monk fish Wellington featured a fish and bubbles on top 🙂

        • Brilliant. I love the idea of the decoration. In one post, I feature a potato fish rising out of a sea of mash atop a fish pie. What a child I am!

  • Yum! We get local monkfish here…I just used it (for my version of the dish) in a recipe I featured on a local store website:

    Your recipe is a totally new way to enjoy this fish. Thanks!

    • Thanks for that. The soup looks excellent. I must give it a go.

  • An all you were doing is sharing interesting facts… I had a good laugh. I am a big monkfish fan. My mother had a couple of very interesting recipes that I might share in the next couple of months. Thank you, loved the Wellington!

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