A trip to the fish market always turns up new strange creatures with intriguing names or looks, begging to be cooked and sampled. The experience can go from wonderful to down right awful. Shopping recently with my friend Kellie at the Halles in Narbonne, we came upon such a species with pretty hues of brown, green and blue named la vieille. While gently nudging me to buy it, the lady at the fish counter described it as a firm white fish with delicate flavors and very few bones. I was tempted for a split second to pick it up for my dinner party that night but my little hostess with the mostest inner voice told me to stick to the original plan: monkfish wrapped in bacon and sage.
Among the many monkfish preparations, one local favorite besides bourride, the garlicky aioli-laden fish stew, is gigot de mer (leg of lamb of the sea) scented with garlic and herbs, roasted on the bone on a bed of potatoes or vegetable. In this part of the world, monkfish (baudroie in southern France, lotte for the rest of the country) is sold whole with or without its ugly head. In fact, I have seen so many of them that I no longer think of them as ugly. It comes in assorted sizes from petite for just two servings to large for six and extra large, which is perfect for roasting or grilling. Once you make your selection, a good fishmonger will ask for your recipe and skin, remove any extra thin membranes and prep the tail accordingly. Above Nathalie, my favorite fish lady in Narbonne, is intently listening to my instructions, which were to remove the central bone keeping the two fillets attached.
The idea was to make a boneless gigot de mer, stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic and sage, wrapped in bacon and tied like a roast. As the fish and bacon were sliding all over my cutting board, it quickly became apparent that the tying part required a lot more patience and time than I had that day — the guests were due in half an hour and the table wasn’t set, yet. I ditched the twine and tightly draped the bacon over, tucked the ends underneath.
I once made a less labor intensive version of the dish by simply wrapping each fillet individually and pan roasting them over medium heat. The crispness of the bacon played nicely against the moist pearly fish. But I prefer the oven method – what I lost in crispness, I gained in succulent, herbaceous, sweet and salty cooking juices.
Gigot de Mer Wrapped in Bacon and Sage
- 2 monkfish tails, about 11/2 lb each
- 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 1 small garlic clove
- 6 sage leaves
- 8 to 10 thin slices of bacon
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Finely mince the garlic clove and 2 sage leaves. Combine them in a small mixing bowl with the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper.
Rub the monkfish tails with the mixture. Arrange them on a chopping board in opposite direction, so each end has one thick and one thin end tucked together.
Lay the bacon on a board, slightly overlapping and arrange the remaining sage leaves on top. Place the monkfish in the centre and wrap the fish as tightly as you can. At this point, if you have the time (and patience) tie the ensemble with kitchen twine as you would for a roast, in which case add 5 to 10 minutes of cooking since the “roast” will be more compact. Place in a roasting dish seam side down. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Drizzle the fish with a little olive oil and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, basting once or twice with the cooking juices, until it feels firm to the touch and the bacon golden. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Cut into thick slices and serve with the cooking juices on the side.