Julia Child finds new faces at the fish market

"Monkfish is a good resource in these days of inflation and scarcity. What you buy is thick, firm, snowy-white fillets, chunky things you halve or cut into steaks. Monkfish is a cook's delight because it's so adaptable; its firm texture suits it to dishes like bouillabaisse, and its mild flavor can be stepped up with marinades and sauce."

So writes Julia Child in her newest cookbook, "Julia Child & More Company" (Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95, paperback, $9.95, soft cover).The book follows along with her newest television series, produced by WGBH Boston and made possible by public-television stations. It will be aired starting in February and March in local cities; for specifics, check local listings.

"Monkfish," she explains in the new book, "is a newcomer to most fish markets and is also called anglerfish, goosefish, allmouth, molligut, and fishing frog. In French it's called lotte or baudroie; in Italian, rana or coda di rospo (toad's tail); and its Latin name is Lophius americanus,m for the American species, and L. piscatorius,m for the European.

"European cooks consider it a delicacy, and because of the great demand it's expensive there, with much of it imported from our waters."

In this recipe the fish is cooked with a piperade, that classic combination of peppers, onions, and garlic; the juices are reduced and added to a fresh tomato sauce, making a pretty dish that's full of flavor.

"In Europe monkfish is often mixed with lobster meat," Mrs. Child adds, "whose flavor and perfume it absorbs, for an effect of vast opulence."

A 25-pound monkfish is a rather terrifying sight, since the fish has spiny teeth in a huge head with three wands on top, and an enormous mouth. It is called the Sidney Greenstreet of the ocean. Fishermen usually cut off the tail, which is the edible part, and toss the rest overboard.

In Julia's new cookbook she describes the scene when she had a complete monkfish brought into the studio for one of her new series. Nobody in the studio fainted, she reports, but there were a few screams when the incredible monster appeared, looking like a huge tadpole the size of a baby grand piano.

This description will only whet your appetite, I hope, for the following recipe, which is taken from the new cookbook, changed only by the substitution of broth for wine. Monkfish Tails en Piperade 2 large green bell peppers 2 large red bell peppers 1 large yellow onion 2 tablespoons or so olive oil 2 or 3 cloves garlic, pureed 1 tablespoon or so mixed herbs like Italian or Provencal seasoning 1/4 teaspoon or so salt Freshly ground pepper 3 1/2 pounds (1 1/2 kg) trimmed monkfish fillets Salt, pepper, and flour 2 tablespoons or so olive oil 2 cups (1/2 L) fish or chicken broth Fresh tomato fondue, optional 1 or 2 large fry pans, nonstick recommended

Preliminary cooking of the piperade vegetables:m

Wash, halve, stem, and seed peppers and cut into very fine, long, thin slices. If you have no red peppers you may use peeled, seeded tomatoes, cut into slices and added when the green peppers go over the fish; or use slices of canned red pimento.

Peel onion, halve through the root, and cut into thin lengthwise slices. Film a large frying pan with oil, add vegetables, and cook over moderate heat 4 to 5 minutes while adding garlic, herbs, and seasonings. Vegetables should be partly cooked; they will finish with the fish.

Recipe may be done in advance to this point; let cool uncovered, then transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Preliminary sauteing of the fish:m

Cut fish into serving chunks. Just before you are to saute it, season all sides with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, dredge lightly with flour, and shake off excess.

Into a second frying pan, or the same one if you cooked vegetables ahead, add enough oil to film it and set over moderately high heat. When very hot but not smoking, add fish in one layer. Saute for 2 minutes, then turn and saute for 2 minutes on the other side, not to brown, but merely to stiffen slightly. Spread cooked vegetables over the fish.

Recipe may be done several hours in advance to this point; let cool uncovered , then cover and refrigerate.

Final cooking -- 10 minutes or so:m

Pour in the broth, enough to come halfway up the fish. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Fish is done when it has turned from springy to gently soft -- it needs a little more cooking than other fish, but must not overcook and fall apart.

Arrange fish and vegetables on a hot platter and cover. Rapidly boil down the juices in the frying pan until almost syrupy, then spoon them over the fish, and serve it, surrounded by the optional tomato fondue.

Fish can wait, unsauced, 15 minutes or so on its platter; cover and set over a pan of hot water. Boil down the juices separately, drain juices from waiting fish, and add to sauce, then spoon over fish just before serving.

Variations on the sauce -- with cream:m

Because this menu ends with a cream cheese flan, I did not enrich the cooking juices. Two luscious alternatives, especially if you wish to accompany the fish with plain boiled rice, which goes nicely, are the following:

Cream:m When you have boiled down the fish cooking juices until they are almost syrupy, dribble them into a small mixing bowl containing 1/2 cup (1 dL) heavy cream blended with an egg yolk. Return sauce to the pan and stir over low heat just until thickened lightly but well below the simmer. Pour over the fish and serve.

Monkfish en Piperade Coldm

This recipe is also very good cold, but you will need to strengthen the flavors. If you are planning to serve it cold, boil down the juices as described and season them highly with lemon juice, more garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs. Spoon sauce over the warm fish, then let it cool. Serve with lemon wedges and black olives. Serves 6. Tomato Fondue 2 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions 2 tablespoons butter 2 1/2 cups (6 dL), more or less, fresh tomato pulp, chopped 4 tablespoons or more drained and seeded canned Italian plum tomatoes, if needed Salt and pepper Fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and tarragon gon or dried herbs to taste such as tarragon, oregano, and thyme.

Cook shallots in butter in a small frying pan for just a minute or two without browning. Then add tomato and cook over moderately high heat for several minutes until juices have exuded and tomato pulp has thickened enough to hold its shape lightly in a spoon. Season carefully to taste.Just before serving, fold in the herbs. Makes about 1 1/2 cups (3 1/2 dL).

Note: If you're doing the sauce in full tomato season when the tomatoes are bursting with flavor, of course you don't need the help of the canned plum tomatoes for extra taste and color, as suggested in the recipe.

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