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Skate


Jack Rose
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Any skate or ray fans out there to sing its praises. Being new to Portland and Maine, I think that its wonderful to find skate wings at the local fishmongers readily available. Most even have the tough upper skin taken off.

As far as a price to quality ratio, skate is extremely hard to top. With codfish populations significantly reduced throughout the 80's and 90's, making its availibility and price fluctuate wildly - skate would have to be one of my favorites.

I first started cooking skate when I was working in Brittany. One of the more inspired dishes that I had created was a preparation thornback ray (very similar to the local skate here in the Casco Bay) that was left on the cartiledge but cut into two symmetrical halves to "stuff" the area inbetween. The stuffing mixture was pan-roasted cepes (porcini), fresh chestnuts, and lobster knuckles and the wings were dredged in a mixture of chestnut flour and white flour before panning. Fresh local butter added towards the end of the cooking helps the crust develop a nice "browned" exterior. A lobster sabayon finished the dish in true glory, with its rich, fattiness complimenting the medley of flavors.

Any comments or descriptions on cooking preparations? Often, simplicity is best and outside of a luxury restaurant it is hard to find the time or staff to prepare such an elaborate dish, plus one is not fetching $45 for it anymore.

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Jack, one of the issues in the earlier thread was about the freshness and smell of skate. Since you have access to very fresh skate, can you tell us if there is a smell of ammonia from the skin? or does this develop with a few days age? Knowing the awnswer would help me in Ont.

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Wow, I just spent the past hour sifting through the five pages of threads. Everyone offers up opinions and who knows where half of these came from. I think that there is a bit of confusion over the smell and what constitutes fresh skate. First off, although there are several types of skate with five types alone in the Gulf of Maine, ray and skate are two names for the same fish - whether that be in French (raie), Spanish (raya), Italian (razza), German (rochen), or English.

I have been luckily enough to work with skate that was brought to the restaurant (in Brittany), still breathing and caught an hour before. At those times, we actually waited several hours before fabricating for the rigor mortis to end and teh muscles to relax (stuck in odd flexed positions). Much like trout, skate has mucilaginous skin and this is actually secreted for a good part of the day after the fish has expired. All fish have a thin layer of mucus on their bodies, but these types of fish produce a great deal more to compensate for the lack of scales. I saw a reference to ten hours, which could be accurate. This secretion has a faint odor to it but it is definitely not what I could compare to an ammoniated scent of fish that is rancid or "off".

Anatomically, I know and have read that skate exude urea through pores which does convert to ammonia after death. and there is other websites that can give you the specifics on the biological functions and rareness of this, maybe even if skate menstruates.

But as far as the debate on whether it should smell ammoniated, the answer is no, but this is a bit complicated. Rays (and sharks), if improperly handled I think some of this confusion arises from the translation from the original French of the Larousse guide. Also, because urine is ammonia-based and decomposition (breakdown of organic matter, or rot) releases ammonia compounds(NH3) and hydrogen sulfide (HS) compounds that are quite odorous and signify when fish has spoiled.

One thing that I can definitely say for certain is to avoid frozen skate, or frozen fish entirely for that matter. Once frozen, the actual process of thawing destroys the cellular structure of the respresentative fish - this ruins the texture.

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Thanks, Jack, for your really good summary of what the fresh state of this type of fish should be. I think I know what to look for when it is offered fresh here in the midlands.

I have one other question: Is there any truth or meaning to the notion that rounds can be cut from the wing, and presented as scallops, or something similar to scallops?

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Supposedly. I have never seen it with my own eyes but have heard it often and even read about it. From what I here, it is relatively common practice in the UK and I am curious if the fishmongers are forthcoming or up front about it. Knowing all about "wet" or "dipped" scallops (treated with tripolyphosphate to absorb more water and add to its weight), I would tend to doubt it.

Unless the skate caught is of a really large size, the punched out rounds would still be quite thin and really do not look much like scallops, so I had always wondered about it myself.

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