The Garden Island may be known for its raw beauty and natural setting, but you have probably come for more than just the beach. In fact, you desire a complete experience and that means dining. You didn’t come this far to have a burger. No, you want some fresh local fish.
In anticipation of your first romantic fresh-fish dinner, you’ve washed off the salt and sand, and put on your best island duds. You’ve taken a recommendation from a friend and picked out the perfect restaurant with an unsurpassed view. Your reservation is scheduled for sunset and you are ready to feast on the flavors of Pacific Rim cuisine. You are in luck, because tonight’s menu features Monchong, a fish that you have probably never heard of before.
So, you may ask, “What is monchong?” Monchong is also known as the Sickle Pomfret , scientific name Taractichthys steindachneri and it may be the ugliest fish you ever saw! Luckily looks and taste are not related. Monchong is an extremely versatile fish; it is delicious steamed, crusted, baked and grilled. It has pinkish flesh that turns completely white when cooked. The meat is denser and the flake much smaller than that of a Mahimahi. The oil content is high, so unlike Ono, it rarely dries out. Instead, it remains soft and moist no matter how it is prepared. Monchong used to be considered a delicacy, but now it is making a common appearance on the menu at many Kauai restaurants. Check out the Plantation Gardens Restaurant and check out their nightly specials.
If you decide to give it a try, you will probably come back for more. Despite being dense and somewhat firm, it has the delicate qualities of other bottomfish like the snappers and sea bass. In fact, Monchong is often brought up with these same fish from depths of 900-1200 feet. There is no apparent seasonal trend for this fish, so you are likely to find it year-round.
When ordering Monchong, you won’t want to confused it with the game, Mahjong. Monchong is pronounced just like it is spelled.
For fisherman, Monchong is not considered a target species. Instead, it is referred to as incidental catch. Since the population hasn’t been assessed in the Pacific Ocean, the impacts of fishing are unknown. What that means for diners is that Seafood Watch designates Monchong as a “good alternative”.
After that first romantic dinner, you may want to buy some Monchong at one of the local fish markets and cook it for yourself back at the condo. Maybe you can share some with the kids and your mother-in-la, that you left behind on your first night out. Here is an easy recipe to get you started. Most of the ingredients can be purchased from on of the many farmers markets held on Kauai.
Grilled Monchong with Local Green Papaya Salad
4- Monchong Filets
Cooking oil (coconut or avocado)
1 large green papaya
1-bunch green beans (optional)
1 bunch cilantro finely chopped
½ c lime juice
1-clove garlic finely chopped
1-Hawaiian chili pepper seeded and chopped
1 TBS fish sauce (you can substitute soy sauce or Bragg’s)
2 TBS sugar or agave
1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
green onions and basil for garnish
Prep the green papaya salad
Peel and grate the green papaya. Grate the carrot on top of the papaya. Add the cilantro and cherry tomatoes. Mix together. Blanch the green beans. Cut into small strips and toss into the papaya mixture.
To prepare the dressing, mix ½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice with sugar and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the finely chopped garlic. Remove the seeds from the chili and chop the flesh into very small pieces. Mix the dressing together and let sit while your prepare everything else. This gives the dressing a chance to absorb the spice from the chili. Dress and garnish the salad just before serving.
Rub the fish with a little coconut or avocado oil, this will prevent sticking and seal in moisture. Sprinkle with a little Hawaiian salt. Place on a hot grill and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side. Fish should still be translucent on the top when you flip it. Serve the fish on a bed of Green Papaya Salad.
Article and photo contributed by: Monika Mira