Coda di rospo — monkfish Ancona-style

Ancona, Italy and Topsham, Devon February 16, 2005 I’m still basking in the warm glow of my recent trip to Le Marche. Something particularly appealing about this still undiscovered region is that seems to be something of a link between Northern Italy and the Mezzogiorno. An indication of this is the prevalence of peperoncino in the local cuisine.
I adore peperoncino and chillies of all types and varying degrees of heat, much to the dismay, sometimes, of my family, who have almost given up protesting when I overdo it. So the discrete note of peperoncino that I enjoyed in the foods of Le Marche – utterly absent in Adriatic seafood from, say, Venice — is most welcome and delicious.
Letitzia, Angelo’s mother, for example, prepared that exquisite dish of codina di rospo — tiny, baby monkfish tails — stewed in good Le Marche olive oil, wild fennel (a characteristic flavouring of the region) and peperoncino. It was sensational, the wild fennel and chilli combining well, the latter adding just the right note of piquancy. It was a dish I had to try and recreate here at home.
Derek, our fishmonger, is himself a fisherman. He told me that sometimes he does get tiny monkfish, but they are not easy to sell. He catches larger specimens of this formidable creature from the deep from time to time, usually when he is out fishing for skate. The largest he ever landed weighed a hefty 22 lbs, but most of that was the head, with its massive gaping jaws, which is always discarded.
Today Derek had a beautiful piece of monkfish, glistening and seafresh. He boned and skinned it for me, and I kept the trimmings. This is how I prepared it, Ancona-style. I hope Letitzia would approve. Angelo warned me not to overdo it with peperoncino and I think I got it just about right. ("It's quite hot, Daddy," said Bella, "but not too hot, just right.")

Coda di rospo - monkfish Ancona-style
Serves 4

1.2 kg monkfish
1 bulb fennel
Pinch of piri piri chilies
1 clove garlic
1/2 fresh chili
Extra virgin olive oil (preferably from Le Marche)
Dry Italian white wine
1 dried peperoncino
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Skin and bone the monkfish or have your fishmonger do this. Save the trimmings and bones to make a fish stock: to a saucepan add the bone and trimmings, half a chopped bulb of fennel, pinch of piri piri chili, a glass of dry white Italian wine. Top up with water to cover, leave to simmer gently for half an hour, strain and reduce to about a wine glass.

Cut the rest of the fennel into matchsticks. Finely chop the fresh chili. Crumble or chop the peperoncino, to taste. Finely chop the garlic. Heat about half a glass of olive oil in a frying pan and gently stew the fennel, garlic, chili and peperoncino.

Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Cut the trimmed monkfish into even sized cubes. Raise the heat in the frying pan with the oil-fennel-and-chili mix, and add the pieces of monkfish. Turn on all sides to seal, then add the fish stock. Place in pre-heated oven for 7-10 minutes or so, or until the fish is just cooked through.

Arrange the fish onto deep plates then spoon over the cooking liquid.

Wine: Giuditta Politi's Loretello Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.

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