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.
Trust cooking traditions
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 just about 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.
Fish cooking rules
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.
Skate: easy to fillet, easy to eat
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…