French Monkfish Stew from Brittany: Lotte à L’Armoricaine
When first starting out in Paris, I remember being bowled over by this dish cooked by Antoine’s friends from Brittany. It was one of their regional specialities: a delicious yet simple fish stew of monkfish, Lotte à l’Armoricaine, cooked in wine and tomatoes with that extra sophisticated touch of being flambéed with Cognac.
Later, I discovered it on some Parisian restaurant menus as Lotte à l’Américaine. Had they made a mistake? Funnily enough, that’s all I could find in our French gourmet dictionary, Larousse Gastronomique. Apparently both names refer to the same dish, although the Breton Armoricaine version adds a touch of crème fraîche at the end of cooking.
Monkfish, or lotte in French, perhaps doesn’t look appealing (also known as “sea-devil”; luckily the head isn’t seen much in poissoneries, as it could swim in from a horror movie!) but it’s a fish that I adore as it’s firm and meaty. All the meat is in the tail (queue de lotte) and once the central bone is removed, there’s not a bone in sight.
The best way to serve monkfish is either roasted or grilled but put monkfish into this classic French dish and you’ll discover just how it takes a simple fish stew to another level.
When it comes to preparing fish, however, I’m a wimp.
There, I said it.
I’m not just awful at filleting fish; I’m slimy scared – am I alone?
My Grandpa, Tommy, is either laughing from above or looking on with frustration as he was a popular fishmonger in Scotland, going from coastal village to village south of Edinburgh. Looking back, I should have asked him for a few lessons but it wasn’t the kind of thing we asked grandpas to do at a young age; we were more interested in baking and rolling snowballs with Granny. In any case, once Grandpa’s rounds had finished, he’d disappear into the pigeon shed to coo on his prize-winning racers.
So, I’m fly: I cheat and ask the fishmonger to prepare the fish fillets so that I just cut the meaty flesh into lovely medallions. All that’s left is the large middle bone. Either forget it and use ready-made fish stock but if you’re going the whole monty, ask your fishmonger for the skin and bone to be packaged separately to make your own fish stock (see note below).
Tip: as you’re leaving the fish stock to cool, tell anyone lurking around the kitchen what it is: the first time I made this as a student, my Dad poured the fish stock down the sink thinking it was dirty water!