skate fillets with capers
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Skates and rays are the winged fish, and it's the wings that you’ll find at the fishmonger’s. How to cook them? You won’t go wrong with pan fried skate wing fillet with caper butter and crispy garlic – delicious.
There is usually a reason why certain dishes are cooked this way and not another. You don’t boil a cake, you don’t steam your steak; potatoes are baked in their skins, but not beetroot. Cheese can be added to pretty much anything but not so much to fish.
Meat roasting juices make gravy but boiled veg need draining. Prime beef cut will be best medium rare but it doesn’t apply to chicken.
For a reason: be it the matter of edibility, taste, health or feasibility of preparation. Fish has its cooking rules accordingly: some you cook whole because filleting would really not be an easy matter (sprats), others you don’t (tuna). Herrings are not grilled for fine dining but pickled into rollmops or smoked into kippers. Some fish seem to only have wings (skate) and others only tails (monkfish). And the way you handle puffer fish is of course the matter of life or death.
Some fish easily shed their skin and fillet like a dream, others don’t – I discovered to my own detriment that you shouldn’t skin lemon sole. So no wonder I thought that skate, which I have only ever seen cooked bone (or cartilage) in, was one of the best left as they were.
So I tried. And I wonder why restaurants aren’t doing more skate or ray wing fillets because it’s a very good thing.
First off, it’s much easier to fillet than an ordinary fish – just slice the flesh off the helpfully flat cartilage in the middle. One side is thicker than the other so make sure you don’t short-change some diners. It can be trimmed nicely too; I’d allocate one wing to serve two, half the thick and half the thin fillet each. Secondly, it’s a dream fish for the slightly wary of anything that’s not fish fingers: it has no bones and the texture is firm but not chewy. And thirdly, it’s fairly neutral in taste (erm, okay: bland) so you can flavour it up with gutsy capers, garlic or spicier sauces. Win-win all round?
Except I feel bound to add that skate is not very sustainable and we should choose Spotted Ray if we can establish the species. It is so hard to try to make the right choice all the time…
skate fillets with capersServings: 2Time: 20 minutes
- 1 skate wing
- 1 tsp salted capers plus 1 tbsp. rinsed and drained
- 1 large garlic clove
- black pepper
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
- plain flour, for dredging
- 2 tbsp. groundnut oil, for frying
You can cook the skate on the bone but it’s much nicer filleted; and really not difficult.
1. To fillet the skate, make an incision into flesh next to the knuckle, insert a sharp thin knife flat, parallel to the cartilage and slice off the fillet. Do the same on the other side; it will be much thinner and less meat on it. Trim the fillets into triangular portions, score the skin side lightly in a criss-cross pattern to stop the fish curling and set aside.
2. Pound the garlic, salted capers and black pepper into a paste in pestle and mortar. Add the soft butter and beat to combine.
3. Prepare the flour on a shallow plate; heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Dredge the skate fillets in the flour, shake off excess and lower them into the pan, skin side down, when the oil is shimmering. Cook for about 2 minutes until the start turning golden and crisp around the edges.
4. Turn the heat down to minimum, flip the fillets over and add the caper and garlic butter. Tilt the pan to spread the butter around, spoon some of it onto the fish and add the drained capers in the middle of the pan. The butter will foam vigorously while you cook the fish for another 2 minutes.
5. Divide the skate fillets between warm serving plates, spoon the butter, crisp garlic and capers onto the fish and serve with green vegetables.