The Three Secrets of Skate

In trying to eat a more sustainable diet, I’m trying to eat more fish from lower on the fish chain. Sardines and mackerel instead of tuna and cod. Skate wing is pretty sustainable — it’s easy to catch, and best processed by the person fishing for it, and right away. It’s a little unusual in stores because most boats aren’t looking for skate. Since it’s usually a by-catch, the boat isn’t always prepared to do the quick processing that skate needs to prevent the neurotoxin in the skin from seeping into the flesh.

That’s too much information, really, but the point is that it’s a little unusual to find it in a store, which is too bad, because it’s so very tasty that unscrupulous fishmongers stamp out round portions of skate wing to sell as scallops.

I made great skate in England. The fish van came around on Wednesdays to the Portland Arms pub, the back loaded with good fresh seafood from 60 miles away in Lowestoft. Most weeks I picked up something I’d never tried before, then looked through cookbooks and recipe websites to find out how to cook it. Skate is usually always served with black butter in England, which is a typically terrible English name for a vinegary garlic butter reduced to a syrup. For the finale, a spoonful of capers. It’s a mixture that can make anything taste good. I remember thinking “Skate, I’ll do you again.”

But I didn’t find it again until a couple of weeks ago, in K&S market, frozen. You can buy skate fillets, but according to Beyond Salmon, it stays moister when cooked “on the bone,” which this skate was. (It isn’t really a bone, it’s a cartilage section that separates the upper and lower fillet. ) The second secret of skate is that it’s covered with silvery connective tissue, which should ideally be pared off. It’s a bit of a chore — but kind of exciting, because it meant the lonely fish knife, which usually sits in the block with the other misfit rarely used knives, took a leading role in dinner.The third secret of skate is that it should be cooked a little longer than other fish (according to Beyond Salmon) until the edges are crisp. So I made the black butter, dipped the skate into it, and broiled it for longer than you’d think, maybe 4 minutes on each side. Then I turned off the oven but left the skate in the oven another two minutes.

It turned out crisp at the edges, moist everywhere else, and tender enough to pull off the cartilege in shreds. Just as good as the first time. That’s why I love blogs so much — I would never have remembered what to do with it. Hey skate, I’ll do you again. 

Skate in Caper Black Butter

  • 1 skate wing, preferably “on the bone”
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons good vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers

 

  • Pare the silver connective tissue from the skate. (It looks as if it will peel off but it doesn’t.) Season with salt and pepper.
  • Melt the butter and the olive oil in a skillet and simmer the garlic until fragrant, but don’t let it brown. Add the vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute or two until the mixture reaches a syrupy consistency. Add the capers.
  • Preheat the broiler. Dip the skate in the butter to coat both sides. Broil for about 4 minutes on one side. Turn and broil the other side for about 4 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the skate stay in the broiler another two minutes. Serve with the remaining caper butter. Makes 2 servings.