When you're visiting your fishmonger in search of meal ideas, it's easy to pass by skate without a second glance. The odd-shaped "wings" of this flat fish, with their central plate or cartilage, don't look like anything else in the market. Yet if you're willing to screw up your courage and venture into the unknown, skate is a rewarding and easy-to-cook fish with distinctively rich flesh.
Things You'll Need
Sharp boning knife
Salt and pepper
Run enough water into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to fill it to a depth of 3 inches. Add flavoring ingredients such as whole peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley stems, onion and shallot, and finish with a healthy splash of white wine vinegar. Simmer this mixture for 30 minutes to create the classic French poaching liquid referred to as "court bouillon."
Slide the skate wing gently into the simmering liquid, so it doesn't splash scalding liquid over you and your stove. Bring it back to a simmer and cook the skate gently for a few minutes; then bring the broth to a full boil. Once it bubbles freely, remove your pan from the heat.
Rest the skate in the poaching liquid for an additional 5 to 6 minutes, depending on its thickness, until it's just losing its translucence at the central plate of cartilage. Carefully remove the fish from its poaching liquid using a pair of slotted spoons or spatulas, and keep it warm on a large plate.
Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan, swirling it periodically, until it becomes golden brown and develops a rich, nutty aroma. Stir in a handful each of capers and chopped parsley, then quickly whisk in a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
Spoon the sauce over your whole skate wing and bring it to the table intact, for the most eye-pleasing presentation, or portion it first and sauce each portion. To portion the skate, simply slide a knife, spatula or fish server along the plate of cartilage and lift off the tender flesh. When the top is bared, turn over the wing and remove the smaller bottom fillet in the same fashion.
Baked Skate Wing
Remove any remnants of skin and connective tissue from the surface of the wing with a sharp knife, and season it liberally with salt and pepper.
Dust the skate wing lightly with flour, if you wish, and sear in a large skillet until the surface is golden. This step is optional, and not appropriate in all cases, but it adds flavor and a pleasant textural contrast.
Dice onions, celery or other aromatic vegetables as desired, and arrange them in the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Nestle the skate wing on top of the aromatics, and cover it with fish broth or a sauce of your choice. White sauce, tomato sauce or even a fruit-based salsa are all appropriate options.
Bake the wing in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 35 minutes, until the sauce is very bubbly and the skate itself lifts easily from its plate of cartilage when tested.
Remove the skate carefully from the baking dish, and strain the aromatics from the sauce. Portion the fish by sliding a spatula or large fork between the flesh and cartilage and lifting away strips. When the top fillet is completely removed, turn it over and repeat with the bottom fillet. Spoon sauce over each portion, and serve.
Place your skinned skate wing on a clean cutting board, and position it with the cut end of the wing facing your knife hand.
Position a long, flexible-bladed boning knife at the upper edge of the line of visible, bone-like cartilage. Gently slide the blade between the cartilage and flesh, then angle it downward until you find the plate of horizontal cartilage. Draw your knife to the thin edge of the skate, separating one large fillet from the cartilage. Turn the wing over, and repeat for the smaller, lower fillet.
Cut the large wing fillets into individual portions, and season them liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge each piece in flour, shaking off any excess.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil, and arrange skate pieces loosely in the pan. Leave plenty of room between them. If you have a large quantity to fry, work in small batches or use multiple skillets.
Cook the skate wings until golden-brown on the first side, 3 to 5 minutes, then turn them and repeat on the second side. Thin pieces from the bottom fillet will take less time to cook than thick pieces from the upper fillet. When each piece is done, remove it to a plate lined with paper towels and keep it warm while it drains.
Serve the pan-seared skate with your favorite grain or potato dish or with a crisp green salad.
Ask your fishmonger to skin the skate wing for you, if it's not already cleaned when you purchase it. Skinning the wing isn't difficult, but it takes strength, and the fins at the edge of the wing have spines that can draw blood if you're careless.
Skate wing can be cooked longer than most white fish, and even benefits from it, because of its high levels of natural collagen. This melts in prolonged cooking, giving the skate a moist and luscious texture.
The plate of cartilage from the middle of the skate's wing makes superlative fish broth. When you've finished your meal, chop the cartilage into large chunks and simmer it with onion, celery and your favorite seasonings for 45 minutes. Strain it, then package and freeze it for your next chowder or fish sauce.
Like other members of the extended shark family, skate is extremely perishable. If it smells even faintly of ammonia, it isn't fresh and should not be purchased. Fresh skate should smell cleanly and faintly of brine, not of fish or window cleaner.