Tom Kitchin: Cod cheek tempura & roasted monkfish

FOR those of you who follow my column, you’ll know how fanatical I am about forgotten cuts of meat, using every single part of an animal and leaving nothing to waste. When it comes to fish, my approach in the kitchen is very much the same.
Tom Kitchin. Picture: Greg MacveanTom Kitchin. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tom Kitchin. Picture: Greg Macvean

Fish is a wonderful ingredient to work with but too often you’ll see simply the fillet or loin of fish being used and the rest discarded. That’s just an incredible waste of not only food, but also flavour. Filleting properly can often be the key to getting the most out of your fish no matter which species you’re cooking with, but don’t forget to use every single part. Even the head and bones of a fish can make for a delicious stock that you can cook up and freeze to use as and when you need it.

Meaty monkfish is a wonderful fish, and if you cook it well and use every single part you will enjoy a variety of wonderful flavours. This is a fish which is succulent, fresh and vibrant. For me, the tail of a monkfish can give you some of the best flavour and can be a great addition to a dish. One of my favourites is a really simple supper of monkfish tail wrapped in pancetta, which protects the delicate flesh of the fish from the heat of the oven to create a lovely salty flavour, as well as keeping it from drying out.

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If you’re buying it from your local fishmonger, you’ll find that monkfish is usually sold with the head removed. The rest of the body is referred to as “the tail”. Sold fresh, you’ll find it skinned and filleted. However, if you want to fillet it yourself, it’s worth a try. Once the fish has been filleted and the central bone removed, there are no others. If you get the technique right, you can enjoy so many different dishes with the lovely white meaty flesh.

Cheeks of a fish can also be a lovely ingredient to work with. It might not sound appealing, but we often serve monkfish cheeks or cod cheeks at our restaurants. If you cook a whole fish, and peel back the skin, you’ll find the lovely medallions of the cheeks sitting exactly where you would expect them. Just remember to remove the membrane enclosing them before you cook them or it will contract when cooked and make the flesh tough.

The texture of the cheeks if cooked in the right way, is similar to the loin or fillet, and they’re full of flesh. Even better, they are extremely cheap to buy from your fishmonger. Monkfish cheeks are, in fact, widely regarded as a delicacy, so don’t discount them. A good fishmonger will tell you how they should be prepared.


Serves four

1 filleted monkfish tail, about 450g

2 garlic cloves, peeled

sea salt and black pepper

10–15 thin slices of pancetta

olive oil for cooking

2 chicory bulbs (Belgian endive), halved lengthways

50g butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tsp drained small capers


Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Have the fish ready at room temperature. Halve 1 garlic clove and rub the cut surface all over the monkfish. Season the fish on both sides very lightly with salt (as the pancetta is salty) and with pepper. Set aside.

Next, lay the pancetta slices side by side on a board, overlapping them slightly to form a sheet, the length of the fish. Lay the monkfish across the pancetta and roll the pancetta around it to enclose it completely. Secure with kitchen string.

Heat a large non-stick, ovenproof frying pan until very hot. Add a drizzle of olive oil and, when it is almost smoking, lay the monkfish parcel in the pan. Cook for 2–3 minutes, turning the parcel to colour all over.

Add the chicory halves to the pan and transfer to the oven. Bake for 6–8 minutes until the monkfish and chicory are cooked. Meanwhile, chop the other garlic clove for the sauce. To check both the fish and chicory, insert a small knife; it should meet with little resistance. Once cooked, remove from the pan and set aside on a warm plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the butter, chopped garlic, parsley and capers. Heat gently until melted and bubbling.

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Meanwhile, cut the monkfish into 2–3cm slices. Serve with the roasted chicory and caper sauce.


For the Thai dressing

30g chilli, chopped

20g garlic, chopped

10g coriander, chopped

2½ tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp palm sugar

juice of 1 lime

For the sweet chilli dipping sauce

60ml white wine vinegar

50g sugar

15g garlic, chopped

15g red chilli, chopped

15g peanuts, crushed

10g coriander, chopped

10g salt

For the cod cheek tempura

600g cod cheeks

100g corn flour

150g plain flour

10g baking powder

Enough iced soda water to make the batter (should coat your finger)


For the Thai dressing

Finely dice the garlic, chillies and coriander together. Place the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar in a pan and warm lightly until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool slightly and add the chopped chilli, garlic and coriander.

For the sweet chilli dipping sauce

Heat a frying pan; add oil and sauté the garlic and chilli for 2-3 minutes, until the oil of the chilli starts to come out. Now add the vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt and reduce until the sauce thickens. Add the chopped peanuts and coriander.

For the cod cheek tempura

Mix the flours and baking powder together, then gently add the iced water. Stir briefly as the batter can stay lumpy, but do not over-mix. Dip ingredients immediately into batter and deep fry in hot oil.

To serve

Place the cod cheeks on a plate or dish and drizzle with Thai dressing and serve with a small dish of sweet chilli dipping sauce.