Monkfish liver torchon with uni creme and heirloom tomato salad
Monkfish liver torchon with uni creme and heirloom tomato salad Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chefs: Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski (Tete Charcuterie)
The Challenger:
Ryan McCaskey (Acadia)

The Ingredient: Monkfish liver

Monkfish liver, a delicacy in Japan that’s increasingly popular in the U.S., is often referred to as the foie gras of the sea. Thomas Rice, whose restaurant Tete Charcuterie will open this fall, isn’t convinced. “It has similar characteristics to foie gras. Flavor is not one of them,” he said. “I’ve worked with it twice before; I’m not the craziest fan of it.”

Kurt Guzowski, chef and partner at Tete Charcuterie, said he doesn’t dislike monkfish liver as much as Rice, but he didn’t have glowing praise for the organ either. “It wasn’t horrible . . . but I’m not going to go out searching for it,” he said.

Monkfish are about three feet long and can grow to five feet in some cases, monstrous both in size and appearance (just do a Google image search and check out that gaping mouth full of teeth). Because they’re large, so are their livers: like the fish, they vary in size, but can easily weigh a pound or more. Rice thinks that monkfish livers get compared to foie gras because they’re similar in appearance, but said that the former just doesn’t measure up. “It doesn’t have that sweetness that foie gras sometimes has, the real richness, the mouth-coatingness. It doesn’t cook anywhere near how foie gras cooks. It doesn’t transform itself.”

And then there were the worms. As Rice pointed out, parasitic worms are very common in fish, especially ones that live near the bottom of the ocean; the fact that the monkfish livers he got were infested with roundworms wasn’t at all unusual. But it did mean he and Guzowski had to pick them out with tweezers. They also had to peel off the outer membrane and pack the liver in salt to flush the blood out. After the salt cure, they vacuum-sealed the liver with mirin, sake, and white soy and cooked it sous vide for three hours at 64 degrees Celsius. “That definitely helped the flavor, made it more palatable,” Rice said. “But you still know it’s monkfish liver.”

They made a torchon out of the liver and served it with an heirloom cucumber salad and uni creme, made by pureeing uni (sea urchin gonads) with gelatin and dashi, then whipping it over a bowl of ice. “We talked about how the monkfish liver lacks the richness of foie gras. That uni creme brings back that creaminess,” Rice said.

The cucumber salad consisted of several varieties of heirloom cucumbers prepared various ways—raw, charred, pickled in pear juice and elderflower liqueur, made into a gelee. It in turn was served with heirloom cherry tomatoes and a vinaigrette of dill oil, yuzu kosho (a Japanese condiment made with yuzu zest, chiles, and salt), and yuzu juice. “As you build a dish, you try to find—the monkfish was maybe a touch abrasive and wasn’t our favorite, but you find a balance with the uni creme and the cucumbers, between the acid and the earthiness and the spices,” Guzowski said.

Several garnishes finished the dish: nasturtium leaves, mustard greens, cucumber blossoms, onion blossoms, dandelion leaves, and amaranth. Tasting it, Guzowski said that the uni creme with the monkfish liver was very creamy and rich; the acidity from the pickled cucumbers cut the richness a little. “The monkfish and the uni are almost the exact same flavor when it’s in that preparation,” Rice said. “They help each other out. I like it because the uni creme is fantastic. So I guess I like monkfish liver now.”

Who’s next:

Joseph Rose of Lockwood, working with smen, a salted, fermented butter. “I think it’s a very underutilized ingredient,” Rice said. “When it’s done right, it has this amazing rounded, pungent kind of blue cheese richness.”

Monkfish liver torchon

1 small monkfish liver
60 g kosher salt
20 g curing salt #1
8 g sugar
1 sheet gelatin
100 g dashi
100 g mirin
75 g sake

To cure the monkfish liver, remove any parasites and then remove the outer membrane on each lobe of liver. Place the liver bottom side up on work surface. Cut out away any imperfections and veins that run the length of the liver. Next, combine all the salts and sugar, cover the lobes, and cure for 24 hours.

Remove the monkfish liver from the salt and rinse under water, removing any excess salt cure. Marinate the monkfish liver in the dashi, mirin, and sake for three hours. Remove and pat dry. To make the torchon, lay a piece of plastic wrap on the work surface and place the liver’s top lobe on it. Place the sheet of bloomed gelatin on top of the lobe and cover with second lobe. Roll and tie tight, removing any air pockets. Vacuum-pack the liver on medium-high. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before cooking. Cook sous vide at 64°C for three hours, then transfer bag to ice bath and refrigerate.

Uni creme

2 uni/sea urchin tongues
100 g heavy cream
.375 g gelatin

Place the uni in a blender and puree, then strain and reserve uni puree on ice. Take 25 g of the heavy cream and bring to a boil, dissolve the bloomed gelatin. Place the rest of the heavy cream and the heavy cream-gelatin mixture in a bowl over ice and proceed to whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the uni puree, season with salt. Transfer to a plastic piping bag and reserve in the refrigerator.

Pickled cucumbers: slice the cucumbers to whatever thickness you prefer and vacuum-seal with the corresponding liquids.

Potato cucumber
1 ea potato cucumber
15 g brown rice vinegar
75 g Asian pear juice
10 g Japanese whiskey

Lemon cucumber
1 ea lemon cucumber
1 ea lemon zest
1 t elderflower syrup
50 g fresh squeezed lemonade

Armenian cucumber
75 g mirin
25 g seaweed vinegar

Japanese cucumber: Char Japanese cucumber over a robata grill. Cut to size & reserve.

Salt-and-pepper cucumber: Slice a salt-and-pepper cucumber thin on a Japanese mandoline and place in ice water, reserve.

Cucumber gelee

250 g English cucumber juice
250 g pickling cucumber juice
18 g gelatin

Place 100 g of the cucumber juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the bloomed gelatin and dissolve. Over a bowl of ice, add all the remaining cucumber juice and steep with gelatin-cucumber mixture and chill. Set in a shallow pan, place in fridge and allow mixture to set. Small dice gelee and reserve.

Dill oil

1 bunch dill
480 g grapeseed oil

Place all ingredients in a blender, on high for 2 minutes. Strain through a chinois and reserve.

Yuzu kosho vinaigrette

65 g dill oil
1T green yuzu kosho
1 t yuzu juice
1ea lime segments, diced
1T chives, minced

Mix all ingredients and reserve.

Garnish: dandelion, nasturtium, red shiso, cucumber blossoms, Osaka mustard greens