Skating on Thin Ice

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Now I know why skate isn’t as ubquitous a fish on our menus as, say, tuna, salmon, sea bass, and just about every other really easy to cook and overfished fish: because it’s way trickier than you’d think. Especially when you buy it on the bone, unfilleted, requiring knife work I’ve never had to perform.

I’ve cooked skate before, but never bought something so un-filleted as the skinned, but still bony skate wings I scored at a Korean market near my house. I’ve learned from experience that when preparing unfamiliar cuts of animal, it’s best to experiment with it before you cook an entire meal for a family of four. Better to know you need to order an emergency backup pizza earlier than later. So a couple of hours before dinner, I cut a bit of the skate off, sauteed it in a rough approximation of the technique I’d use to cook it later and lo and behold I was chewing a mouthful of cartilaginous bones along with succulent skate. So I further filleted the skate wing, cutting along the bones until the one wing turned into two, thin, half wings. Did the same with the other. The skate was ready for dinner. And soon thereafter, so was the family.

I made a classic beurre noisette (a brown butter sauce, to which I added the classic skate accompaniment of capers and lemon, plus a bit of parsley). Violet: she one bite and she was out. Desmond: he ate his. And Violet’s.

Great flavor. BUT it was mushy. I read online that skate is best aged a few days in the fridge to firm it up before cooking and I can see why. Would I make it again: with a properly aged piece of skate (i’ve since read you should leave it in the fridge for a couple of days to firm up before cooking it. Counterintuitive to a “the fresher the better” mindset). Will I try to make it again? No time soon. And no wonder populations of super rich, tough-to-screw-up sea bass are perilously low. And no wonder I wish they weren’t.

p.s. Bonus recipe: brown butter sauce is perhaps the most delicious transformation of an already incredible ingredient (butter) into an even more incredible ingredient. Heat 4 or so tablespoons over butter in a pan over medium heat until it darkens to a straw color and starts smelling like the most amazing, toasty, caramelized version of butter over. Thrown in some sage and you’ve got an amazing tortellini sauce. With capers and lemon juice it becomes great with a rich fish.
—Hugh

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One Response to Skating on Thin Ice

  1. Sarah says:

    As tricky as it is to fillet a skate wing, might I suggest my usual method of cooking which involves no de-boning? Gently poach the wings (bone/cartilage in) for 8-10 mins (depending on size of fish) then serve with beurre noisetts/capers/parsley/lemon. Yes it takes a little more time to eat at the table but the flesh is moist and parts company with the bones in long, juicy pieces. Add just boiled new potatoes and yum!

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