roast monkfish wrapped in san daniele ham

we have been making a concerted effort to eat more fish though in all honestly, i have more of an issue with fish than i do with meat. in fact, i could never get my head around the fact that many 'vegetarians' continue to eat fish even when they eschew meat. it seems more legitimate to eat animals we have domesticated for the purpose, many of which - let's be honest about it - wouldn't stand a chance in the wild, than to empty the seas of fish which are just minding their own business and having nothing whatsoever to do with us. why not eat rabbits or squirrels instead, or wild deer or birds? there are plenty of them and their numbers presumably need controlling. plus those puffins on nature programmes always look quite tasty.

it's diving that's done this to me. once you've been down there, you can't really see dead fish on fishmongers' slabs without thinking of how beautiful the reefs are, or how amazing it is to get caught in the middle of schooling barracuda, or how privileged you are to be able to watch mackerel feeding on the surface or sharks hunting (i wish). This parallel underwater world - and i really can't avoid this sounding like a cliche but it is SO different that you can't but think of it as being wholly alien from our terrestrial existence - seems more precious because it is basically irreplaceable.

the point of all of this is to say i approach fish-buying with a heavy heart. we have pretty much stopped eating scallops unless they're cold water and MCS-certified ones (waitrose, in case you were wondering) and eat nothing more exciting that local mackerel, octopus, squid and the odd bit of salmon. gurnard too but it's so bony that you lose the will to live a little by the time you're done picking bones out of your mouth. there are only so many jokes about the heimlich maneuver you can make before your husband wants you dead.

monkfish was a bit of a departure from the usual, then. i actually had in mind a monkfish curry - a recipe from skye gyngell i've been circling around for months like an obese person circles mcdonalds. but then i realised we had some ham in the fridge and thought it might be nice to roast it wrapped, the way we have done with beef or even salmon. we toyed with the idea of filleting it but decided it's probably the same as the meat: it's better to roast it on the bone to preserve some juice. we were right (though of course i'd have to cook it off the bone to be sure). a meat thermometer is probably a useful tool for cooking this, as you can judge the cooking time much better with it. we didn't use one (though we have it and use it for meat all the time) so i think we got lucky.

PS san daniele ham is a close relative of parma ham.


1 monkfish tail, bone in (ours was about 800g, including the bone)
150g or thereabouts of san daniele ham
a sprig of rosemary
olive oil

preheat the oven to 200C. wash and dry the monkfish, and remove any membrane you can spot. oil it a little, then season lightly with salt and generously with black pepper. lay the ham flat - if you buy it from the deli, it will usually come perfectly packed, in a single layer of lightly overlapping thin slices. if it's from a supermarket, you'll have to take out those annoying plastic sheets they put between the slices. but you get the idea of what it should look like from the photo, hopefully. put the fish in the middle of the ham slices, so they face east-west and the fish north-south. (i don't know why i am struggling to find the words to explain that - i am in belgrade and i seem to have forgotten how to speak english in 3 days). if you have any rosemary, lay a sprig in the middle of the fish.

now wrap the ham around the fish - take a slice from the left, then one from the right, overlapping slightly, and continue until it's all used up. kind of like plaiting. it doesn't have to look perfect. i didn't need to secure it with toothpicks or anything - it stuck to the fish enough to be able to handle it without it all falling apart.

heat some oil in a ovenproof, heavy-bottomed frying pan. sear the fish for about a minute on each side, then put the whole thing in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. you will need to check it as it's pretty nasty when it's overcooked - i'd go as far as to say you're better off taking it out of the oven after 10 and cutting into it to see what it's like, than overcooking it. if it's still translucent, put it back for 5 mins or even less. if it looks done - sort of white and opaque, take it out. transfer it to a warm plate and leave it to rest - don't overrest though, cold fish is grim.


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