Market share: Possessed to (cook) skate

It may look intimidating, but skate, a member of the ray family, can make for a delicious meal.

Photos by Stacey DeWolfe

If you love fish and seafood but are concerned with issues of sustainability and ethical consumption, a trip to the fishmonger can be fraught with anxiety. As someone who long ago made a conscious decision to return to an omnivorous lifestyle after years as a vegetarian, I strive to find a balance between my budget, my ethics and my culinary curiosity. Still, I am sometimes guilty of not doing my research before setting out or not asking the right questions in the moment.

I confess to this because I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the dish I am about to present is made with a fish that (as I discovered after the fact) can be found on Greenpeace’s list of endangered species: the skate. The good news is that while skate is delicious (as well as affordable and relatively easy to prepare), and though you may decide to give it a try despite these ethical concerns, the dish can also be made with other, more sustainable species such as halibut (though, as with many fish, its rating depends on what region of the world it comes from), trout, tilapia and arctic char. (For more information on the ethics of seafood, check out Bottomfeeder author Taras Grescoe’s website.)

That said, because this column is devoted to seeking out and shedding light on foods that people are unfamiliar with, I will for now return my attention to the skate.

When you see skate at the fish market, it looks intimidating. In fact, a colleague, on hearing that I had prepared and eaten the fish, called me brave. But while I concede that the giant wing — for skate is a member of the ray family — is akin to the chicken foot in terms of being among the foods that I am least likely to put in my mouth, cooking it transforms it into something more appetizing.

As with all fish, you should wash and dry the skate before preparing it — if you buy a different kind of fish, buy a filet that still has the skin on one side. Because in my household we are always trying to be economical, we generally buy one wing (or one filet) for two people.

To cook the skate, simply season the wing well on both sides, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and a liberal coating of coarse corn meal.

Shameless product plug: Though I am very aware of how gullible I am in the face of old-timey faux authenticity in product design, I do believe that Bob’s Red Mill brand cornmeal is the tastiest option here.

But before beginning the cooking process, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare the side dishes: kale and caramelized tomato-lemon compote.

For the kale, simply trim the leaves from the stems, and then wash and steam them until green and toothy. Remove from the pot and toss with olive oil, minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

For the caramelized tomato-lemon compote, wash a handful of small whole tomatoes and wash and thinly slice half a lemon. Mix them together in a small cast-iron pan, if possible — if not, in a small oven-proof casserole — with olive oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of fresh or dried chilies for heat. Put aside.

For the fish, heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. When hot, add a thin layer of olive oil and lay the fish flesh side down. Cook for 2-3 minutes without touching so that the cornmeal crust is able to brown. Using a spatula, flip the fish over and let the underside brown for about the same amount of time. Remove fish from pan and wipe out any overly browned crumbs or excess oil.

Finally, put the kale into the cast-iron pan and lay the fish, skin side down, on top of the kale. Put the fish, and the pan with the tomato-lemon compote, into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through; you will know this is the case because the flesh will become opaque and start to fall apart. It is extremely important that you do not stir the tomatoes and lemons during cooking, as doing so will halt the caramelizing process.

When the fish is cooked, pile some kale and fish on the plate and spoon the compote over top. The lemons are tart and sour, but because of the sweetness of the tomatoes, quite delicious. 

Read more about Stacey’s culinary and other adventures on her website, or follow her on Twitter @staceydewolfe

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