Spicy Braised Monkfish | Agu Jjim (아구찜)

Happy Birthday to a bunch of presidents! I have a much needed day off from work today during which I am going to lounge around and get some blog posts written. It's going to be a good day for that because it's frickin' cold outside and the wind is howling so hard I can't even concentrate on the television. It's definitely the type of weather meant for steaming hot dishes and today I'm sharing one of my favorite dining out Korean dishes: spicy braised monkfish.

Monkfish is one of the most terrifying, ugliest creatures on the planet. If you've never seen one, go have a google and then come back. But, they say it's what's on the inside that counts and in this case, what's on the inside is pure deliciousness. Monkfish meat is really hearty and firm (almost like lobster) which makes it delicious in a stir fry, in a soup, in a stew, grilled, roasted; basically the point is that it's pretty versatile.

My initial exposure to monkfish was through Korean food. On the occasion that we would go out for Korean food (which was rare considering my mom was an awesome home chef specializing in Korean food), my parents would order agu jjim. I didn't know what 'agu' was for years. I just ate it contentedly. When I found out it was monkfish and saw how ugly it was, I continued eating it contentedly because that's just the kind of person I am. (Don't get me wrong, if I was happily enjoying a dish and someone told me it was puppy or baby or poison, I would stop; but in general, I'm pretty unaffected by the contents if they're delicious.)

Eating agu jjim in restaurants is delicious but the proportions are always a bit off for me. There's maybe 3 or 4 pieces of fish surrounded by an endless sea of bean sprouts. Restaurants also add sea squirts, which look like dehydrated eyeballs (and taste like it too) and I am not a fan. Obviously, that's why I love making it at home. I can customize the proportions to my liking and I can eat it in my pajamas. Oh! Also, the monkfish served in restaurants is often times the tail end with the bone and skin left in tact, which means, you have to suck the meat off the bone and then spit out the stretchy skin (which is like chewing a rubber band). I buy monkfish fillet, cleaned and deboned, which makes for a much more elegant eating experience.
Ingredients [serves 2]:
1 tablespoon canola oil (or any neutral tasting oil)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 long hot pepper, sliced
3 Thai chili peppers, split
3 tablespoons hot pepper flakes (gochugaru)
¼ cup water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 monkfish fillet (about ¾ lb.)
3 cups mung bean sprouts
1 cup greens (baby kale, watercress, spinach)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 scallion, chopped
+ handful dduk
+ fresh noodles

Start by getting your mise en place. Chop the peppers, mince the garlic, chop the scallions, and roughly chop the monkfish. I like to cut the monkfish into 2" chunks.
Monkfish is fleshy and sort of pink; it looks like alligator.
Add canola oil and sesame oil to a skillet and turn the heat up to medium. Once the pan is warm, add in the garlic and peppers and let them sizzle briefly.
Once the garlic is softened, add in the hot pepper flakes, and stock and stir and cook until the oil is red. Add in soy sauce and sugar and stir and then nestle in the monkfish.
Cook the fish for about 5 minutes or until the flesh is opaque. Stir around to coat in the sauce.
Add in the sprouts and stir a bit. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the sprouts have completely wilted and the fish is tender.
I decided to beef up my monkfish with some dduk (sticky rice cakes). This is completely non-traditional and optional, but I think the sauce is so delicious and the rice cakes absorb it so well; it's really yummy.
Just before you're ready to serve, wilt in some greens.
Pile the monkfish into a platter, garnish with scallions and sesame seeds (typical Korean garnishes), and serve while it's piping hot.
We had our agu jjim with kalbi, kkakdugi, and mandu. What a feast! The agu jjim was definitely the star of the meal. The fish is tender, the sauce is spicy but balanced, the sprouts are packed with flavor (thanks to the sauce), and it's a feel good dish. It's packed with vegetables and a healthy protein but it's super flavorful. Though, to be frank, I feel like all Korean food is feel-good stuff. In any case, it's a delicious dish worth trying, especially if you've never had monkfish before.
Here's the recipe page: