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Story Savour the delicate flavours of ankou, or monkfish By JNTO On 25 February 2022

A monkfish (Lophius americanus) is is a deep-sea species of anglerfish that lives at the bottom of the ocean with its prehistoric appearance sporting a gigantic mouth full of sharp teeth which may make you think twice about eating it. 


beauty contests of the monkfish beauty contests of the monkfish


It is also commonly known as Goosefish, Devil-fish, Frogfish, and even “poor man’s lobster,” but no matter what it’s called, this bizarre-looking fish is actually a delicacy in Japan called ankou, which has been popular since the Edo period. Only the females, which grow up to 1.5m long, are eaten as the males are too small to be harvested. 


While unlikely to win any beauty contests, the monkfish is considered a high-grade fish which is prized for its flavour, texture, and versatility.


The flavour of ankou

One of the reasons ankou is so beloved in Japan is because it is very versatile: its flesh is light and delicate, its skin is packed with collagen, and its liver can be enjoyed like foie gras. The monkfish is known as the “poor man's lobster" for a reason: it has a firm, springy white flesh that is mild and sweet, similar to that of lobster tails. 


You can find monkfish tail in most cuisines, which is prized for its tenderness and mild flavour. However, in Japan, almost all parts of the fish are eaten, including fins, skin, gills, liver, stomach, roe and meat – they are collectively referred to as the “seven tools of the anglerfish” in Japanese. Each part of the fish has a different flavour, but it is generally delicate. 


roast monkfish deep-fried monkfish


However, if there is one part of the fish that is preferred over the rest, it is the liver. Steamed monkfish liver – or ankimo – nicknamed “foie gras of the sea” for its texture and flavour, and is often enjoyed as an appetizer.


Slices of monkfish meat does not disintegrate easily, so it can be served deep-fried, grilled, stewed, roasted, as sashimi, and of course, in a hotpot. You can also get an entire course meal consisting of anglerfish prepared in various ways.


The best season for monkfish is from November to March, with January and February considered the most delicious months to savour the fish at its fattiest. 


monkfish meat monkfish meat in a hotpot


Winter is also the best time to have the ankou nabe (monkfish hotpot) – it is by far the most popular way to eat monkfish in Japan. The fish is cooked in a hotpot in a miso or soy soup base with plenty of vegetables. In some places, ankimo is blended into miso broth for extra complexity and depth, which brings out the delicate flavour of the monkfish flesh even more.


Where to go for monkfish

Ankou is served in many parts of Japan, but there is a saying in Japan that goes, “Pufferfish in the west (Osaka), monkfish in the east (Tokyo),” which refers to popular winter hotpot dishes of respective regions.


In Japan, monkfish are mainly caught in the prefectures of Shimane, Yamaguchi (Shimonoseki City), Aomori (Shimokita), and Ibaraki (Oarai). In winter, many places celebrate Ankou Festival which includes a showcase of the traditional tsurushi-giri technique, where monkfish are suspended from a hook to be cut up because the fish is too large and soft to slice on a chopping board. In Kazamaura in Aomori’s Shimokita peninsula, villagers demonstrate the setchu-giri, a traditional fish cutting that is done on snow. 


monkfish shop monkfish meat shop


Ibaraki prefecture is considered by many in Japan to be the best place to savour anglerfish in season, since it is the home of ankou nabe. It is also where you can savour a local specialty called ankou no dobu jiru which contains all parts of the monkfish, including skin, liver, and more, in a thick, pasty broth. Aomori prefecture is known for its ki ankou (yellow monkfish), which can also be savoured locally as ankou no tomoae – monkfish liver and meat dressed in miso.



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