This recipe (the main dish for "A Menu From My Cancale Kitchen") is an example of how a small printing error can change the course of culinary history and forever influence regional French cooking. Homard à l’Américaine (Lobster à l’Américaine), was the creation of a 19th century Parisian chef who had spent time cooking in Chicago. Decades later, in 1938, the Larousse Gastronomique misprinted “Américaine” as “Armoricaine,” an understandable mistake since “armor” means “by or from the sea” in the Celtic Breton language. The name stuck and ever since, cooks all over Brittany have adopted the sauce for their own. It’s a home cooking classic that can be made with lobster (of course) and any other type of seafood.

Monkfish à l’Armoricaine is a favorite in Cancale because the day boats that go out of the harbor regularly catch monkfish. (On the Vineyard, monkfish comes in with our local fishermen as a bycatch from flounder fishing.) Everyone has a slightly different take on how to prepare the Armoricaine sauce, but two ingredients are essential: a fish or shellfish stock base and a good pinch of cayenne pepper. Fish stock may sound fancy, but it is as easy to make as boiling water — you just have to ask for a few bones at your seafood store, which they’ll usually give you for free. (Editor’s note: On the Vineyard, The Net Result and other fish markets usually have frozen store-made fish stock for sale.)

This dish is usually served with rice, but I like to ladle my version over Buttermilk-Nori Mashed Potatoes for a change—and to keep everything really local. (Bretons are as fond of potatoes as the Irish.)

This dish is also a delicious make-ahead, so it’s perfect for serving at a small dinner party. A day ahead, you can do everything up to the point of stirring in the butter at the end.

Monkfish is a very sturdy fish so it takes well to longer cooking. (It is also very tasty, since it is a bottom feeder that snacks on shellfish!) But if you decide to make this with a different type of fish, follow the instructions included at the end of the recipe for altering the recipe.

Also take note: Monkfish fillet (which comes from the tail of the fish) has a fine grey membrane over it that must be removed before cooking. Island seafood stores sell monkfish with the membrane already removed, but it never hurts to check with your seller to be sure.

Susie Middleton

Serves 6

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds monkfish fillets*, cut into 2 ½-inch chunks
  • ¼ cup cognac or Calvados, optional
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 15 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought fish stock (only use fish stock bought at a seafood store; do not use bottled clam juice!)
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 small sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish
  • Buttermilk-Nori Mashed Potatoes for serving


1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté the monkfish fillet chunks in the oil 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the cognac, if using, and either flambé the dish by turning off the heat and lighting the cognac with a match or simmer the fish until all the cognac (and any residual moisture the fish released) has evaporated. Transfer the fish chunks to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the shallots to the pot, and sauté the shallots until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the tomato paste and cook 30 seconds to a minute, or until the tomato paste begins to turn a darker red. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, stock, white wine, cayenne pepper, thyme, and bay leaf.

3. Partially cover, bring the sauce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. The sauce will turn a deeper red and begin to thicken.

4. Return the monkfish to the sauce, partially cover the pot once more, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The sauce will be reduced and thickened. (If you want the sauce to be thicker, remove the monkfish with a slotted spoon and continue to reduce the sauce for a few minutes, but keep an eye on it. Return the fish to the pot.)  

5. Just before serving, swirl the two tablespoons of butter into the sauce to finish the dish, and sprinkle with parsley.

Serve over Buttermilk-Nori Mashed Potatoes or rice.

• To make the recipe with other types of fish: For more delicate fish types (salmon, halibut, cod, sea bass) skip step two (sautéing the fish), and start by sautéing the shallots, then deglazing with the cognac. Cook the sauce 30 minutes, then add the raw fish fillets or chunks, and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through.