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Skate Wing with Black Butter, Garlic and Arugula

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!)

Skatewing_1Anyway, 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
olive oil
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

FilletknifeThe 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.)

(May 2009)


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I've never had skate, something else I someday need to try.

And Susan is just felling sorry for herself because the poor thing only had 1/4 of an acre of asparagus this year.

I have had skate wing and it is delicious, but getting those bones out requires more than patience. It's like plucking porcupine quills out of a dog's butt.

There, now everyone feels better: skate is a PAIN IN THE ASS.

: D

Love ya, Mr. Cooks.

Hi Tana...funny, I thought the skin was the hard part. When I separated the meat from the bones the knife tracked smoothly along the surface of the bones and the meat just fell away in one big easy-to-handle piece -- it took about 20 seconds a side. But then, I've never picked quills out of a dog's butt...

It will be a very cold day in hell when I find skate around here....

I only had it in a restaurant once, it's very good. I am sure your meal was outstanding, as always!

Okay, first of all, let's just nip these nasty rumors in the bud. Ahem. Kevin. I did NOT have a 1/4 acre of asparagus this year--I said I WISHED I had that much. In truth, my measly, pathetic patch is 4 feet by 8 feet and never gave me more than five harvestable spears at any time this year. That's why I had to keep sending everybody over to your blog for all the asparagus recipes--I never had enough to actually follow a recipe. Hell, I ate half my crop raw in the garden.

Okay, moving right along. Stephen, it's only 240 acres, not 280. Big difference. : )

And THANK YOU for putting up that weird and prehistoric fish because for ONCE I have absolutely no desire to eat or cook your most recent meal.

And finally, well, I guess that's it. Except it's very, very hot and humid here already, and I am one of those people who dreams of wearing a turtleneck and sleeping under a pile of quilts 365 days a year--in case that makes anybody feel better.

Oh, but I have an adorable baby lamb sacked out next to my chair. Sorry, couldn't resist slipping that in.

You haven't scared me off yet! I'm sure I'll be back with more obnoxious comments soon! : )

Some stingrays are good to eat as well, but not all. In Australia the yellow or eagle ray is very tasty, the black ray is not. As to the skin, I always leave it on when poaching then it slips of easily afterwards, but I agree, it is the hardest part of cleaning the beast. A fisherman who is a family friend swears by barbecueing skate or ray.

The last time I had skate was 2 years ago when I was living in Ottawa. Unfortunately you can't get it here in Thunder Bay.

Hi Stephen, I just discovered your blog and I'm addicted already.. I can't wait to delve into your archives! I'm from Cleveland, Ohio so finding any good, fresh fish other than Perch, Walleye and a few other Lake Erie specimens isn't likely. Although, at our large farmer's market, there is a fish monger and I've seen skate being offered. I didn't have the guts to buy it because I figured it couldn't be too fresh as there aren't many Lake Erie fresh water skates swimming in these parts. Much to my chagrin, as I've always wanted to try it. Your picture is making me swoon =) Ahhh.. maybe one day I'll at least visit some place where I can finally taste fresh skate! Regardless, I'd definitely like to try your recipe on one of the delicately flavored fish that is readily available in these parts because it sounds so delish!

I haven't had Skate wings for years, they are dead cheap and beautifully fresh here too.
Must revisit them, your recipe looks and sounds jolly tasty and yummy!

I love skate. That looks particularly good

Here I can find Skate in our local Asian fish market. They have all sorts of beautifully fresh fish that you can't find anywhere else. I don't fillet. I just skin it and cook it with the bones in. They are not hard bones. Onse the flesh is cooked, it's very easy to just eat around them.

I live in maryland near pax river and skate are very plentifull around here and we catch them all the time im so glad i found your page so now i can keep them instead of cutting the line and loosing my bottom rig too.
Im fishing this weekend i will let you know if im lucky to catch one this weekend!

I find skate on a regular basis in GA at our Farmer's Market that is owned by Whole Foods. It is very cheap $3.99 a lb today. I cook it with the skin and the cartiledge in. The skin pops right off once it gets a little crisp. I peel it off dust a little more flour on and flip with tongs and cook on the former skin side again. I then just push it off the bones with a spatula prior to serving. I don't fool with plucking the "quills".

I cooked this dish after finding fresh skate at a fish shop here in Brooklyn. Good LORD this recipe's great. The tender cooked cucumbers... the browned butter... all perfect. I don't love capers, so I substituted finely diced green olives soaked in lemon juice. Turned out great - delicate fish; balanced flavors in the sauce. I used salted butter as that wasn't specified - was perfect and didn't salt any further. I stumbled on the recipe after a Google search, but now I've got your site bookmarked! Cheers.

Don't remove the bones! I tried steaming one yesterday, and the bones (cartilage) are easily removed while eating.

I steamed, covered with garlic tops and carrots, and topped with a little fish condiment (lime juice, soy, sesame oil, fish sauce, ginger). After 10 minutes it was done but very moist.

Total work and cook time is well under 30 minutes, most of which is waiting for water to boil and the fish to settle. Price per serving well under $4...

In the Seattle Uwajimaya, you can buy skate perfectly skinned on the bone, no work involved. Sorry to brag, poor prairie-dwellers :-)

I like to poach the un-skinned skate in water to cover with a bay leaf,fresh thyme, and a splash of vinegar for about 8 minutes. Refresh in ice water, and then the skin removes very easily. I separate the fillets from the center cartilage and dust them in seasoned flour then proceed to saute in browned butter with capers and parsley. Stephen is right; it does have a Lobster/Crab quality to a fraction the cost!

I had skate wing once in a restaurant years ago. Loved it.

Saw it in a great fish market today and grabbed it. They did the dog butt work. I just found this recipe and loved it again.

Many thanks.

Where can I buy Skate Wings in America and have them shipped to Florida?

Alan Singleton
Florida. 33706

Hi Stephen
This what I Google: How do the Chinese prepare skate fish? And your site came up. I have some bragging rights, "Brooklyn's in the House". I just bought skate today for $1.79. And it is available mostly in Asian fish stores. And it not frozen and they are apt to skin and fillet the wing into pieces. I went home and seasoned it and cooked in olive oil and fresh garlic. Did I mention I prepared it with a bed of broccoli and Chinese spinach. I will try your (broth, lemon juice, garlic, tomato, cucumbers, parsley and capers) but no butter. I am sounding off. Thanks The Urban Urchin

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