A distinctive-tasting member of the shark family
“The guys catch skate pretty much all year round so it does not have a season as such,” says stall owner Paul Day of Sussex Fish as he packs some ice around the display of distinctively-shaped skate wings, making geometric patterns on the front of his stall. “But they do get a lot more prolific round about now, so it is a really good time for them.”
At this time of year, the boats go out to what Paul calls ‘the banks’—“that’s what we call a ledge which sits a few miles out where the sea bed drops steeply from about 70 metres to about 260m deep, so it is a fair old drop. The skate gather along this ledge because as the tide is moves in and out, it concentrates the food in this region making it a great place for them to feed.”
Skate is actually part of the shark family and has a very distinctive flavour. “It is quite a sweet fish,” he says “with a hint of shellfish to the flavour.” It is also what’s called a cartilaginous fish, making it ideal for people who are wary of fish bones.
“The skeleton supporting the fish is made up of cartilage and runs down the centre of the fish,” he explains. “There are none within the flesh itself. This makes it very easy to cook, you just have to keep an eye on it to make sure you don’t overcook it.”
Lovely to eat
“I always pan fry it, three or four minutes each side at most depending on the thickness of the fish. It is lovely to eat, you cut a morsel and simply slide it off the ‘bone’, it comes off beautifully. Some of the older customers eat the cartilage as well, they swear by it. But I have to admit I have never been tempted try it myself.”
If you are thinking of buying skate for the first time, Paul says you have to be especially aware of freshness, even more so than is normally the case with fish. He says you should really be eating skate within a day of two at most of buying it. Luckily there is an easy way to tell if the fish is past its best—and it goes back to the fish’s bone structure.
“The cartilage is actually hollow and starts to degrade quite quickly once the fish had been caught,” Paul says. “This generates a slight ammonia-like smell, nothing overpowering but a definite hint of it. If you can smell this, it is a cast iron way of knowing that the fish is getting a bit old. That doesn’t mean it has gone off or is dangerous, just that it is now past its best so I would put it back.”
Another thing our fishmonger says you should take notice of is colour. Fresh skate has a definite reddish tinge. “It should only be that pearly white colour after you have cooked it,” he explains. “The paler it is, the older it is. Sometimes you get told it is pale because it’s the end of the season; that is not the case. It should be a healthy pink colour.”
If you have not had it before skate is a lovely fish that is really worth giving a go. “If you are already a fan, make sure you get some soon because they are in great condition at the moment.”
To make the most of this tasty white fish, try making Borough Market demonstration chef Hayden Groves’ simple yet delicious traditional recipe for pan fried skate, lemon, capers and nut brown butter.