A few weeks ago I visited Super 88, still one of my favorite places on earth to buy stuff I’ve never consumed before. It went about as expected; I bought a lot of insanely inexpensive frozen dumplings, a gigantic tub of miso despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and then fed Janet pork and duck in the attached food court. On my slow, slack jawed fly-by of the fish department (where I usually consider buying one of the whole carp swimming behind the counter) I saw that they had whole skate packed in ice for $1.39 a pound. Which created some anxiety.
I’ve loved skate wing the few times I’ve had it in restaurants, usually pan fried with a brown butter sauce. On the other hand, skate is a ray, pees through it’s skin, and generally should be eaten extremely fresh since it gets nasty fast. On top of all of that, the center area of the skate is mostly inedible, each wing has a band of cartilage running through the middle of the meat, and the skin is extremely difficult to peel off. Due to all of these factors, I did multiple anxious passes by the seafood case before having the courage to ask the man at the counter if he would clean the skate for me. Which he shook his head and replied “no” to. Meaning I needed to do a couple more anxious laps deep in thought.
Eventually, despite my near psychotic hatred of wasting food, I decided that the minimal investment due to the per pound cost made it acceptable to take the risk. So, as the 5th lap wrapped up I asked for a skate from the same seafood counter guy who immediately asked if I wanted it cleaned. Well then. Seems like the questions work best when they are outbound at Super 88 and can be answered with just a nod. Anyhoo, he removed the wings from the skate and I headed up to wait in the extremely long line at checkout. Then, of course, Janet and I went and ate a half pound of Chinese roast pork.
Once home, I got started on dinner. The plan was to use the miso in a corn dish that I saw on the first season of Mind of a Chef, do the skate wing in brown butter, and utilize a week old head of cauliflower in a way that completely wouldn’t match the flavors of the other items. The first step, was getting my first good up close look at the fish and preparing it for cooking.
I have no idea what happened in the back of Super 88 when the fishmonger went to “clean” the fish, but some things happened. Most noticeable was that the spiny edges were trimmed off, but also that he randomly chose to remove the skin on only on side of each wing. There was still a hard piece of cartilage running down the center of the wings which ended with a thick piece of bone-like cartilage at what would have been the middle of the body. Otherwise the fish looked and smelled pretty fresh, with none of the ammonia-like smell I was told to look out for. Still a lot more work left to do than I expected, though.
The hardest part of dealing with skate, as I had heard and quickly learned first hand, is removing the skin which is best done with pliers and a lot of elbow grease.
Especially if you have tasted soft, delicate skate wing in a restaurant, this process seems entirely ridiculous. The idea of tearing the skin off of meat seems like it would completely ruin even the toughest cuts, but with skate it actually peels away cleanly. Albeit with an insane amount of effort. I think each wing probably took 2-3 minutes or repositioning, pulling, then trying to find a new grip on the meat that wouldn’t damage it, and pulling some more. I know I am painting a very encouraging picture for giving this a shot at home.
After a lot of effort, I had a couple clean wings.
The last step in prepping the fish was to fillet the meat off of the cartilage that ran down the center of each wing. I took the same approach I would with a whole fish and cut down to the bone, then used it to guide the knife down the fillet. I’ll give myself a B- here and would probably boil the remaining meat stuck on the bone in a soup next time.
With the fish fully prepped, I got started with the other parts of the meal by mixing equal parts unsalted butter and miso paste.
I used a fork to mash the miso and butter together until they were relatively well combined. Once finished, I got started cutting the corn off of six cobs for some pan roasting. I got the idea for this method of preparing corn after watching a mouth watering episode of Mind fo a Chef Season 1. That corn was prepared with huge chunks of bacon in that case and finished with miso butter. Makes my mouth water writing it.
The last side, and one that fit in most poorly with the others, was a roasted cauliflower dish based on one I’ve had a few times at Ten Tables in JP. It started with preheating the oven to 475F and tossing a broken down head of cauliflower with olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, currants, and sunflower nuts.
The dressed cauliflower went into the oven for 20 minutes to get some good roasted color and texture.
While that cooked, I heated up a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in a large pan for my version of the miso corn. Bacon pieces would have been better, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to cook it properly, so bacon grease was the call. Once the grease was hot and nearly smoking, I added the corn, tossed and cooked it for a minute or two, then added the miso butter.
With the corn cooking, I heated a large cast iron pan over medium/high heat and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it once it got up to heat. While the butter melted and started bubbling, I lightly floured and seasoned the skate fillets before adding them to the pan.
The skate cooked for a few minutes on each side, basically until the outside had a nice browned color. By the end, the skate was falling apart tender and a little difficult to keep whole but I was succesful for the most part. Once the meat was out of the pan, I turned the heat up a bit to brown the remaining butter in the pan and then deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine. After a couple more minutes of reducing the wine sauce, I added the fish back to the pan and plated.
Skate is a fish that every fish lover needs to try, regardless of your feelings about the idea of eating a ray. The flavor is mild but as sweet as a scallop, and the texture is incredibly light and almost feathery. You can choose your own difficulty level, getting the partially cleaned buck-fifty version from an Asian supermarket or the $14.99 full cleaned fillets from a reputable seafood market, but it is incredibly easy to cook regardless. This version, with brown butter, had the nice contrast between the sweet meat and the sharper flavors of the sauce, and was very delicious.
The corn was sweet, bacony and salty miso-y which I loved and I think Kristi was middies on. I just love the flavor of miso and this was a combination of my favorite ingredients. Would have been better with some cilantro to cut the richness, though. The cauliflower was very simple but delicious and had a nice crispy char from the roasting and balsamic sugars burning slightly on the surface.
Very good meal, I got some game offal to cook for next week.