Skate Wing with Black Butter, Garlic and Arugula
Some of my readers have been carping lately about my emphasizing how pleasant it is to live in a Maine fishing town, what with the availability of really fresh fish and all. They claim it isn't fair to those confined to realms far from the sea. Unfortunately, I love it too much here to keep quiet about it, and isn't that the beauty of blogging? No rules, and if you don't like it here there are thousands of other blogs to read! (Of course this is all in fun: Susan, the Farmgirl, is one of my favorite bloggers in all the blogosphere, even if she does needle me about being lazy, Maine boasting, etc., so I'd be crushed if she actually did stop reading this blog!)
Anyway, about the skate wing. The skate is a ray-like fish, prehistoric and weird, and the meat of the skate's wing is a wonderfully mild-flavored white flesh, a little like lobster or crab. I had my first experience with skate wing about 15 or so years ago in Gordon Hamersley's original storefront restaurant, when he cooked every night in the open kitchen in his Red Sox cap for the twenty-five or so diners who could fit in the joint. (Hamersley's, for those unfamiliar with the Boston scene, is now a big-deal destination restaurant, one of Julia Child's favorites in her later years, and, in addition to inspiring dozens of other chefs and restaurants in the Boston culinary scene, was arguably one of the major factors in turning Boston's South End from a possibly dangerous fringe zone into one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Boston.) As I remember it, Hamersley's skate wing was simple: sautéed in butter with a lemoney wine sauce.
Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter also work with skate wing, by the way -- but do home cooks get to cook this fish? Not very often. It's rarely, if ever, available in fish markets, and certainly not in the fish section at the supermarket...except in Maine, where I found a stack of fresh-from-the-boat skate wings the other day, for the backbreaking price of $2.25 a pound! Sorry Susan - but remember, you have all the pleasures of living on a 280 acre farm in the middle of nowhere!
The traditional way to prepare skate wing is sautéed in butter, and frequently the butter is then browned to become beurre noire, or black butter. I didn't deviate too far from this basic formula in my first attempt with the fish, though I did use a free hand with additions to the butter (broth, lemon juice, garlic, tomato, cucumbers, parsley and capers). I had just read Susan's post about arugula pesto and so had a bagful of baby arugula in the house, which was sautéed in garlic and butter to make a nice bed for the fish - a very good pairing (next week for the arugula pesto, I guess). The flavor of the skate wing is delicate but this preparation, while flavorful, allowed the flavor to hold its own. I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for future opportunities to explore a little with this flavorful, inexpensive and interesting fish.
Skate Wing with Black Butter, Garlic and Arugula
Serves 2 generously.
1 skate wing, skinned and filleted (about 14 oz meat, from a 2 lb uncleaned wing)
10 oz baby arugula, washed and shaken off
6 oz butter*
flour on a plate
2 T capers, rinsed
1/2 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
3" piece of cucumber, chopped fine
4 T minced parsley
lemon juice to taste
fish sauce to taste
hot sauce to taste
lemon zest strips for garnish
The skinning and filleting of the wing is a bit of a process, if you haven't done it before. A good sharp fillet knife is essential, and the process is pretty much the same as any fish-skinning and filleting. Patience, however, is required.
Melt 2 ounces of the butter in some olive oil in a large heavy skillet and toss in the arugula and half the garlic. Toss with tongs until the leaves have wilted and are tender. Season to taste with fish sauce, hot sauce and a squeeze or two of lemon. Spread on the warmed serving plate for the skate.
Flour the skate wing pieces, add two more ounces of butter to the pan, and sauté the wings about 1 minute on each side. Lay them on the bed of arugula. Add the remaining two ounces of butter and carefully brown it (being careful not to burn it), stirring to scrape bits from the pan. When the butter is well-browned, add the broth, tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, parsley and remaining garlic to the pan and reduce quickly, stirring. Season to taste with fish sauce, hot sauce and a few squeezes of lemon. Garnish with the lemon zest.
Note: I'll be updating this to eliminate 4 tablespoons of butter, next time I can get a skatewing. I'll post the revised recipe when I've done it successfully but here's the plan: steam the arugula and garlic with maybe a teaspoon of olive oil; prepare two tablespoons of black butter ahead of time and have it ready on the side; poach the skatewing in fish broth (probably fresh made with the skate trim, bones, skin, etc.), remove to the serving plate; add the brown butter and the veggies, capers, parsley, remaining garlic to the poaching liquid and reduce quickly. I may decide to thicken the sauce slightly with a teaspoonful of cornstarch, since the flour dredge is eliminated with this method.
If anyone tries this variation before I get to it, please let me know how it goes. This modification should reduce the calories per serving by around 200! (For further calorie reduction the black butter could be elimated altogether but a lot of the pleasure of the dish would be absent in that version.)