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8 & $20: Monkfish With Warm Chickpea Salad

This versatile, textured and flavorful fish can pair with red wines
This is the rare fish that has the stuffing to pair with red wine from Spain or Portugal.
Photo by: Greg Hudson
This is the rare fish that has the stuffing to pair with red wine from Spain or Portugal.

Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Posted: December 8, 2015

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

An occasional search of hidden-away storage spaces in your kitchen can be quite fruitful and yield beautiful, quick dinners. That is essentially how the warm chickpea salad for this dish was first created—by rooting around in my pantry on a weekday night.

Here, I’ve dressed up the original version of my pantry salad with a few fresh ingredients to make a more elegant meal, but the process is almost as easy as throwing together a few canned items.

Monkfish is an appealing ingredient to work with. It has a meaty texture reminiscent of lobster, but is a lot less expensive. For this reason, it has often been termed “poor man’s lobster”—but poor or rich, it makes for delicious eating. Monkfish tails are thick and cylindrical, with a tapered end. Adaptable to a variety of cooking techniques, the tails can be cooked whole as filets or cut across the bone into steaks (which is how I chose to serve them), making them a good fish option for a small group, as you can portion them to suit various appetites.

Thanks to its texture and the fact that it absorbs flavors well, monkfish can stand up to red wine, particularly when combined with other substantial ingredients, as it is here. With a chill in the air, my wine cravings were pointing me in the direction of a red.

The dish has a Mediterranean feel to it, so I decided to sample wines from countries in that part of the world, while staying away from very robust versions that might overwhelm the food. To represent Italy, Portugal and Spain, I grabbed a Chianti Classico, a red Douro blend and a Rioja Crianza.

There wasn't a truly bad match in the bunch. The Chianti Classico had nice acidity, but a little too much tannin for the dish—a basic-level Chianti might have been a better option. The Douro blend was a medium-bodied example from the region, with smooth, sweet tannins and ripe fruit that worked well with the dish—a pleasant surprise overall.

The Rioja Crianza had bright cherry flavors, fresh acidity and integrated tannins, as well as savory and mineral notes that resonated with many elements in the dish. The weight and texture of the wine matched the food perfectly, making this my top choice for the meal.

Monkfish With Warm Chickpea Salad


Pair with a Rioja such as Cune Rioja Viña Real Crianza 2011 (88 points, $17) or a medium-bodied dry Portuguese red such as Symington Family Douro Altano 2013 (87 points, $11).


Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Approximate food costs: $33

  • 3 monkfish tails (about 1.5 pounds), portioned into 6 or so pieces
  • 1 onion, halved, with one half diced
  • 4 peeled cloves of garlic (3 minced, 1 whole)
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
  • 3 ounces black olives, sliced
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 10.75 ounces condensed tomato soup, diluted as per package instructions
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • pepper

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan and sweat the diced onion over medium heat. Once the onion is translucent, add the 3 minced cloves of garlic and cook for an additional minute.

2. As soon as the onions and garlic are soft, add the 2 cans of chickpeas and the sliced olives to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Once heated, gently stir in the cherry tomatoes. As the tomatoes begin to soften, reduce the heat to low to keep warm, stirring occasionally, while you cook the monkfish.

3. Place the flour in a bowl and dip in the monkfish pieces to lightly coat them.

4. Heat a large frying pan on medium-high and then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is melted, add the monkfish pieces. Cook on the first side for 4 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

5. Flip the monkfish, then carefully add the tomato soup to the pan, being careful to avoid splashing the browned side of the tails. Add the remaining garlic clove and onion half to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then lower the heat and gently cook until the monkfish pieces are fully opaque and cooked through.

6. Let the monkfish rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Remove the onion half and garlic clove from the sauce. To serve, spoon a small amount of the sauce onto each plate, then place a mound of the chickpea mixture on it and top with a portion of monkfish. Serves 4 to 6.

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