The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE - JP McMA­HON

Monk­fish is un­doubt­edly one of the ugli­est fish on the planet. It forms part of the an­gler fam­ily, of which the one we all know ( lophius pis­ca­torus) is prob­a­bly the most at­trac­tive. At­trac­tively ugly that is. Monk­fish have a vo­ra­cious ap­petite and usu­ally hide in the sand, lur­ing their prey in with the lit­tle ten­dril that hangs in front of their face. They can grow up to 4ft long and can weigh up to 50kg.

A fish­er­man once told me that they used to never land them in Ire­land be­cause they thought they were an in­car­na­tion of the devil.

In­deed, the Ger­mans call them “sea dev­ils”, so it wasn’t just us Ir­ish that were su­per­sti­tious to the point of star­va­tion.

So how did this ex­tremely ugly fish be­come a Celtic Tiger del­i­cacy that now is at the point of be­ing over- fished in cer­tain parts of the world? Given that each fe­male monk­fish lays a mil­lion eggs through­out the year, we must se­ri­ously be eat­ing a lot of them in the world to drive them to near ex­tinc­tion.

Monk­fish and curry pair well.

Was it this fact that brought their at­ten­tion to Ir­ish waters? You may think we’re not a na­tion of curry lovers, but we’ve been en­joy­ing curry in Ire­land since at least the late 18th cen­tury, when re­turn­ing Ir­ish soldiers of the British em­pire re­set­tled in the west of Ire­land and brought home their lit­tle bags of spices.

In re­search­ing my Ir­ish food cook book, I came across men­tions of potato curry in West­port around 1850, though there was no men­tion of monk­ish.

It wasn’t un­til the 1990s that curried monk­fish took the na­tion by storm. For a brief mo­ment we seemed to aban­don our predilec­tion for cod and salmon and switch in­stead to monk­fish and sea bass.

To make a monk­fish curry: pre­pare a curry base ( onions, gar­lic, spices, curry paste, fish stock and cream) and sim­mer it for 20 min­utes. Cut your monk­fish into chunks and add into the curry at the last minute. Poach the fish for two min­utes and fin­ish with lash­ings of sheep’s yo­gurt and freshly chopped co­rian­der.

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