Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Skating down the Wing

It is May, which means the return of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the greatest* annual sporting competition. This post, however, is not about that. Rather, it is about overcoming my fears and discovering something truly magical.

I have always been afraid to cook seafood.

This may seem strange. Rarely has a preparation intimidated me. My first mayonnaise was made, without breaking, only minutes after reading a recipe. I dove headfirst into breadmaking, only to discover that it is not nearly so hard as a Quebecer's head. And how many complicated curries did I merely laugh at before attempting to butcher in many painful ways?

Seafood, however, has always been an exception. Living in the Midwest, it is hard to get fresh fish, so I decided to only indulge when on the coasts. Since it was a treat, I left it for professionals to prepare it, which eventually turned into a slight hesitation to prepare it myself, and this state of affairs eventually (and quickly) spiraled into a full blown apprehension towards cooking fish and other seafood. The only thing I have prepared in recent years is ceviche, and only because it is both mind-blowingly simple and stupidly delicious.

For whatever reason, on Sunday, I jumped. On a heart's fancy, I talked my mom into trying out a fishmonger in Lake Bluff, and the fishmonger suggested I try skate wing. To make a long story short, the skate wing was very thinly filleted, so I pan fried it for just a few minutes on each side, made a pan sauce with white wine and parsley, and served it for dinner. The fish was so undercooked, it may as well have been sushi.


I had always heard that fish hated overcooking. The number one rule is to err on the side of undercooking. And this was a very thin filet, cooked for not a very short amount of time. It made absolutely no sense.

The fishmonger had given us three of the skate wings. Two had been prepared. Monday morning, I went online and did some research and found out something rather surprising: Skate wing, as well as monkfish, like to be cooked for a long time. In fact, the longer the better, within reason.

Cue second attempt: same pan, more butter, longer cooking time. Much longer. Probably twice as long. The same pan sauce, although I reduced it down a lot more (lemon juice, white wine, reduced until thick, a little salt and lots of black pepper, chopped parsley and monter au beurre) than on Sunday.

And the results?

A delicate fish with a rather strange but very delicious flesh. Plus, I learned two lessons:

1) I don't know how to cook everything, so there is no reason to avoid the internet. It's an amazing tool and chances are good that someone else in the English (or French) world has already written about the very thing I'm ignorant on.

2) There is no reason to be afraid of seafood.

*Feel free to argue, but I honestly don't think the closest competitor - the Champions League - holds a candle to 31 best-of-seven series in two months' time.

1 comment:

chris said...

Matthew; I enjoyed your skate wing adventure. I live on Cape Cod and have been in the seafood business for years started clamming while paying for school. I run a lobster company and am committed to good seafood recipes. I never heard that you cook skate wings longer to make them tender. I tried and they were very chewy. But a famous chef showed me how to cook a variety of different unusual fish like monk fish correctly. He has since passed away but if you can find a recipe book by Pierre Franey,his seafood could be another adventure for you. I sell many chefs in KC. I do like your The Oyster and Wine blog and will stay in contact. My lobster company website http://www.newenglandprovisions.com/ was created by me as a type of blog. It has many of my favorite easy to make seafood recipes for newbies and oldies. I just have a huge passion for seafood. You'll see if you go to my recipe site. stay cool and fish on. cbmorrey