Korean Style Monkfish with Smoked Bacon and Indian Spices


monk_baconpI recently saw on tv a French chef preparing the relatively popular monkfish wrapped in bacon. I buy monkfish as often as I can (i.e. whenever the price is reasonable) because I love it for its subtle taste but also for its firm flesh and versatility. This smokey fish reminded me of the Korean squid with bacon and Indian spices, discovered at the excellent Beyond Kimchee blog and replacing, since then, the ex-favourite, more traditional Spicy Korean Squid. Since I prepare Korean style monkfish quite often (see the recipe here), I decided to spice it up in a similar way, adding of course the smoked bacon. It worked just perfectly! At the end, just before serving, I put on top another delightful product: chopped Korean Pickled Garlic (the dark brown pieces in the middle of the bowl) and it was one of the best fish meals I’d had for years.

Monkfish in Korean-Style Gochujang Sauce
Monkfish in Korean-Style Gochujang Sauce
Korean Squid with Smoked Bacon and an Indian Touch (my slightly modified version)
Korean Squid with Smoked Bacon and an Indian Touch (my slightly modified version)
Pickled Korean Garlic (Manul Changachi)
Pickled Korean Garlic (Manul Changachi)

TIPS: Even if you buy a prepared, skinned monkfish fillets (or a whole skinned “tail”), you should make sure to remove all the traces of grey and pinkish thin “film” because it will shrink during the cooking process and somehow degrade the texture. You can try peeling it off with fish bone tweezers.

Of course, you can use any firm-flesh fish you like instead of the monkfish.

Gochujang, the Korean chilli paste is unique and impossible to replace. If you don’t have any Korean grocery shop nearby, gochujang is sold widely on internet, almost all around the world, so most of you should be able to buy it (check your local Amazon). Look for it also in Japanese shops and other Asian grocery shops. If you cannot find gochujang, do not try to replace it with other chilli pastes. It is not similar to any chilli product I have ever tasted and is an extremely important ingredient in the Korean cuisine (and it has a rather complex taste, hence the difficulty with a replacement). It keeps for ages, after opening, in the fridge, so it’s a good investment (in case you are wondering, what to do with it, check this link).

The below ratio of the sauce ingredients should be treated as approximate. Adjust the level of heat, sweetness or saltiness to your taste. Don’t exaggerate with turmeric: you can make your sauce bitter.

Preparation: about 30-40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

400-500 g monkfish “tail”, cleaned (see the TIPS) and cut into bite-sized chunks

3 stripes (thin) of smoked streaky bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces

(a small handful of soybean or mungo bean sprouts)


4 tablespoons sake

2-3 tablespoons oil

white part of two green onions, sliced


2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated

2 heaped tablespoons gochujang (see the TIPS)

2 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon Korean chilli powder (or other medium hot chilli powder)

1 tablespoon honey or syrup or sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

10 tablespoons (or more) of stock (chicken/vegetable/dashi/Korean fish stock….whatever you like) or water

1 tablespoon chopped green onions or chives

(2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil)

Sprinkle some salt on monkfish and 4 tablespoon of sake.

Put aside for 10 minutes.

Combine the sauce ingredients.

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a pan.

Fry the bacon and put it aside (don’t remove the fat from the pan).

Pat-dry the monkfish pieces and quickly brown on two sides (at high heat) in the bacon fat.

Take them out of the pan.

Add the sauce ingredients to the same pan and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat and put the monkfish pieces, as well as the white part of green onions into the sauce.

Add more water or stock if necessary (it depends also on how watery ou want your sauce to be) and simmer the monkfish until it’s soft but not dry.  Check often the texture with a fork because monkfish is easily overcooked.

At the end add the sprouts (if using) and fried/grilled bacon. Give the dish a stir just to warm those up.

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds, green onion and a splash of sesame oil.

If you have Korean pickled garlic, it’s excellent with this dish.

22 Replies to “Korean Style Monkfish with Smoked Bacon and Indian Spices”

  1. It sounds like a very hearty and flavourful dish. I don’t think I’ve ever seen monkfish available locally so the suggestion for an alternative would be needed. I’m not very familiar with various fish types so I’m not sure what would be suitable. Something like a catfish, cod, halibut, haddock?

    1. Thank you, A_Boleyn. I have never had halibut and haddock only in smoked version… maybe catfish then? It has to be firm enough to be simmered without falling into pieces.

    2. I’ve had monkfish and it’s taste and texture is similar to lobster…it is often referred to as poor man’s lobster. I think your idea of haddock and halibut would work in this recipe. I hope that helps.

      1. I too have heard it referred to in that matter. It’s such a horrible looking fish that the re-branding/naming must have been necessary to get people to try the creature. 🙂

        Thank you for the confirmation of possible substitutions.

        1. Actually, you never see the head of the fish (the only scary part) when you buy it -even when I bought the small specimens – because it’s very heavy and big and makes the transportation more expensive and also I think customers wouldn’t want to pay for it, so it’s cut off before it arrives to the fishmonger (though you might see it if you buy from a fishing boat directly, I guess). Maybe also some fishmongers display one (the way butchers do with pig head sometimes), but I’m pretty sure the majority of those who eat monkfish have never seen the head. Nowadays, of course, with internet, everyone checks what it looks like when alive…but I must ask my French family members and friends who all know and eat monkfish if they know how the head looks.

  2. Would you believe that I bought a bottle of gochujang before we left New England because the grocery stores where I live in Florida really don’t have hardly any ethnic sauces and spices. Now I know I can’t get monkfish but since it is called poor man’s lobster, I think I’ll use Florida lobster tail as a substitute.

    1. Karen, I was impatient to answer you because I started imagining how sophisticated your lobster version would be! I have never had lobster actually (only in Japan, in croquettes) because it’s very expensive and quite rare in restaurants here. I must wait for a special price in my fish shop and try cooking it!
      I’m sure your “substitution” dish will be 1000 times better!
      (By the way, Amazon.com sells several brands of gochujang, if you ever need more of it. I wish European Amazons sold more food… it’s so practical for exotic products).

      1. I’m so glad I bought the gochujang before I left New Hampshire…you are the one that inspired me to buy it because of all your wonderful recipes. I was just mentioning to my husband yesterday that I’m going to have to make a list of spices, seasonings, etc. that aren’t cared at the markets here in Florida. I was really expecting to have more things available since we are living in a city but I was shocked to find that there isn’t much as far as ethnic ingredients are concerned. Florida lobster is about the same price as some of the fish sold here when it’s in season so I can’t wait to use it in your recipe. Thanks so much so sharing such interesting recipes. I can’t always find the ingredients but I still enjoy reading about the dishes nonetheless.

        1. Thank you so much, Karen, for such kind words. I really appreciate it so much… I hope you can use gochujang quite often (I use it all the time with non-Korean dishes too! I find the taste so irresistible!).

  3. During our cooking class in Lyon we made bacon wrapped monkfish too, it was delicious! I would never have thought such strong flavours would pair so well with the subtle taste of monkfish but it works beautifully! The Korean flavours sound wonderful too. I just love the colour of this dish.

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. Yes, bacon and monkfish are quite popular in France. It’s surprising, but bacon (smoked) works very well with seafood in general! (Maybe not all of it).

  4. This sounds incredibly flavorful and delicious Sissi – and it’s gorgeous looking too ~ those rich colours combined with your green onion 👌. I think I would lean towards haddock or halibut in terms of familiarity and availability. Alaskan halibut has a nice firm texture with a mild taste – I think it would play well here. I may have already mentioned this to you but I was able to get Gochujang via Amazon :O) – happy dance – it should be interesting to see how Amazon prime air unfolds… hold on to your hats! ;o)

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly, for all the compliments! Of course, any firm fleshed fish would be perfect here. It’s funny because I never see here fresh haddock (only smoked) and halibut… I saw maybe twice only… but monkfish is a very frequent offer. I’m happy you have bought gochujang (US Amazon sells also fantastic Korean medium hot chilli flakes, in case you are interested…). I couldn’t imagine now my life without gochujang and I guess you will feel the same soon!

  5. Wow this is what I call a punch of flavours! Korean AND Indian? Monkfish is such a meaty fish it’s really the best thing for taking on all these spices. Can’t wait to try out this combination of flavours, thanks for the inspiration Sissi 🙂

    1. Hi, Shu. Thank you so much for the compliments. Somehow these Indian spices are perfect with Korean flavours without destroying them.

  6. Thank you for this recipe, Sissi. Now I have another reason to use leftover Gochujang from the tub that I bought. Thanks to the internet (Amazon) for making this wonderful Korean chili paste available. Your monkfish dish looks full of flavor and I can’t wait to try it. I’m just not sure if monkfish is available from my local fish market; I may have to find a substitute. Thank you and have a beautiful week, Sissi.

    1. Thank you so much, Ray. Haha! I have already bought gochujang from Amazon for a friend too…I’m sure you have lots of fantastic firm-fleshed fish varieties you can use here.

  7. I don’t think this type of fish exists here and I am curious as to how it tastes. You made one wonderful dish with it! Apart from the hot ingredients, I think I would love its taste!

    1. Thank you, Katerina. It’s sometimes written monkfish tastes a bit like lobster, but I am not sure… I think the taste is rather delicate, but strong enough to be paired with such powerful stuff as chilli or smoked bacon. I’m sure you have various firm-fleshed delicious fish varieties in Greece. I think this dish would be delicious also with much less gochujang and mild paprika instead of the medium hot chilli.

  8. I could drink that sauce!!! 🙂 Monkfish is a fish that I NEVER see in New Mexico; therefore, I can’t say if I’ve ever had it before. It looks like a meaty fish more like a halibut vs. talapia? Those are two white fish that I can get here along with catfish. Actually, now that I’ve gone back and looked at the recipe, I think catfish might be a great substitute. My mouth is already on fire just thinking about those flavors and the chili!! Great Recipe!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. Catfish might be a good alternative (see, here I NEVER see catfish! I did eat river catfish as a child, but I’m not sure if it’s the same you have in New Mexico… it was delicious though).
      You can make it with any firm fleshed fish. In France and French-speaking Switzerland monkfish is quite popular, though very expensive, so whenever it’s at a special price, I buy it and experiment!

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