Skate, like rays, are part of the shark family, with pectoral fins shaped like wings. The meat on the wings is partly gelatinous incorporated into tender and light flesh, which when cooked produces ripples of soft succulence that could be easily overcooked but when isn’t, is divine. I discovered this for the first time while dining recently at Patina with the Cute Gardener before seeing an equally angelic performance by otherworldly pianist Martha Argerich. My introduction was impressive as Patina chefs seemed to braise the dish, infuse it even, with subtle overtones of celery cream, caper berry and brown butter emulsion that allowed it to lazily melt upon my tongue.
I was happy to discover a new undersea creature for my repertoire as I have been enjoying the experimentation with varieties other than my normal old salmon when making my weekly meals for the Cute Gardener and learning that exotic sounding fishes and ocean denizens are nothing to be afraid of. The trick with fishes, even more so than meats, is to know what technique to use to cook the more fragile varieties and the precise amount of time to do so. I was so enamored by the skate, that I visited Santa Monica Seafood shortly thereafter and purchased two fresh pairs. I promptly handed them over to the CG and asked him, politely, to go to town, assuring our meal would be great and that I could learn to cook the skate in the process by watching his mastery with unfamiliar food items in our kitchen.
Because the wings are so delicate, the first entrée made was a pan steamed version upon which the CG sprinkled an addictive, tangy and equally delicate dressing of minced hard-boiled eggs and dill mustard that was decidedly Austrian. The second introduced a veil of barely there breading, pan seared and intensified with capers to top a pile of freshly made arugula rigatoni. Both were genius. I was sad I had only bought enough for two meals. I honestly could have eaten a few more consecutive days’ worth. I have found my favorite fish of 2015 and am going to be on the lookout for its presence on menus to discover others ways it will inspire chefs and home cooks this year.