The other white fish: Skate Meunière with Browned Butter and Capers

by Terry B on January 6, 2010

This simple, classic French preparation makes the most of skate wing’s mild, sweet flesh, brightening it with lemon juice and capers. Other white-fleshed fishsole, flounder, halibut, ocean perch—may also be used. Recipe below.


Are you English?” The question surprised me. I answered with a simple no. “Well, did you live in England for a while?” Again, no. I was curious as to what had the fishmonger at Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop convinced that I had some English connection. Turns out it was the pound or so of skate wing fillet he’d just wrapped up for me.

Long considered a trash fish, skate has grown in popularity in recent years. But it’s been quite popular in the UK for some time. In fact, Marion remembers being in a restaurant in Paris with her sister that had skate on the menu one evening several years ago. The only people ordering it were visiting Brits.

Skate is a deliciously mild, slightly sweet fish that isn’t at all fishy. And its muscle structure makes for a beautifully exotic presentation on the plate, as you can see above.

skateSkates are cartilaginous fish—their skeletons are made of cartilage, rather than bone. They’re related to rays, which they closely resemble, and sharks. Skates are kite-shaped flat fish with large wings; these wings are the edible part.

Thinking of Marion’s Paris experience—and, having recently watched Julie & Julia again, of Julia’s life-changing moment when she tasted sole meunière on her first day in France with Paul—I decided I would use this simple, classic French preparation for the skate.

Except, as with all “classics,” there were countless variations on the theme. Thyme, broth, wine and even heavy cream were mentioned in various recipes I came across. So I went with the constants I found—lemon juice [and the zest—I can rarely pass up lemon zest in any recipe involving lemon juice], parsley and lots of butter. Flour is another constant, a given, in fact. According to Food & Wine, “Meunière means miller’s wife and refers to the dusting of flour on the fish.” And then I threw in another bit of bright tartness, capers.

If you can’t find skate wing fillets, other white-fleshed fish—sole, flounder, halibut or ocean perch, for instance—may also be used. But besides the mild, sweet flavor that makes seeking out skate worthwhile, it’s not as insanely fragile as some white-fleshed fish, sole in particular. It held together nicely, even after it was cooked on both sides. And still, it was delicate enough to be cut with a fork. Regarding its non-fishy mildness, when we came home to our closed up apartment the next day after running errands, there was no lingering fish smell at all. However, the kitchen still smelled of butter!

If you do find skate, make sure it has already been filleted. Dealing with countless pieces of cartilage in non-filleted pieces of skate can be a real pain.

Skate Meunière with Browned Butter and Capers
Serves 4

2 skate fillets, about 1 pound or a little more total
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
1 generous tablespoon chopped flat parsley

Preheat oven to 200ºF. Cut skate fillets into 2 equal pieces. Season with salt and pepper on one side. Dredge in flour on both sides, shaking off excess.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon each of oil and butter, swirling to mix as butter melts. Place 2 skate fillets in pan, seasoned side down. Sauté for about 3 minutes, then carefully turn with a wide spatula. Cook on second side until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer fillets to plate and keep warm in oven while you cook the remaining two fillets, first adding more oil and butter to skillet, if necessary. Transfer second batch of fillets to oven too.

Wipe skillet clean and return to flame. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in skillet. Cook, occasionally stirring, until butter browns, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, plate skate fillets. Add lemon juice, zest, capers and parsley to skillet, stirring. The lemon juice will make the pan spatter like crazy. That’s okay. Just be careful. Turn off the heat and spoon sauce over fillets. Serve immediately.


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Nadia January 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Gorgeous dish! So fresh and clean… the Skate on the plate sort of looks like a seashell.

Christina January 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm

I love this dish. It’s really good at Balthazar. In fact, that is the only place I’ve ever had it. I’ll have to try, with your guidance, making it for ECG and me at home.

Have you ever had plaice? That is another wonderful fish, one that I’ve only had in the UK. It is sweet and mild and makes better fish and chips than anything else I’ve ever had. Oh, I’m getting hungry just remembering it.

altadenahiker January 6, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Yes, we have no skate; we have no skate today. The guy at Whole Foods told me he had only seen it in-store three times in the seven years he had worked there. Same with Bristol Farms.

Yes, I could go for a substitute, but not when my heart is set on skate. (Perhaps just a meal of lemons and capers?)

Terry B January 7, 2010 at 1:41 am

Thanks, Nadia! I hadn’t thought of it looking like a shell, but it does—and it looks more like something that came from the sea than many prepared fish do.

Christina—If I ever had plaice, it was probably as fish and chips in the UK. That would have been when fish and chips was the only kind of fish I willingly ate and was proud of myself for even that achievement.

Altadenahiker—Well, dang. Come to think of it, the only place I’ve seen skate here is in bonafide fish shops. Good luck!

Melissa January 7, 2010 at 1:55 am

Wow, this looks like a restaurant worthy dish. I thought it had gotten quite popular for awhile. I guess not. I always order it when it is on a menu. I think this preperation of skate is the best one, lemon, capers, butter, done. I don’t like when people get all fancy with it. Less is more, when it comes to skate, I think. Good thing I don’t know where you live, for now, or I would be knocking on the door, begging to do the dishes, for just a bite of whatever you are making!

Laura January 7, 2010 at 2:49 am

So pretty! I love skate but oddly have never gotten around to cooking it myself. I’ll have to remedy that clearly!

Dani H January 7, 2010 at 3:18 am

Another one of your stunning photographs, Terry! Your couscous reminds me of pearls that have been worn next to the skin for years and get that lovely patina. That is a beautiful fish when cooked – I was really glad when I got to the part where you said to purchase it already filleted because the photo of the whole fish gives me the willies. And a fish that doesn’t stink up the apartment? I haven’t fixed fish at home since moving into my apartment almost two years ago because of the lingering odor. I really hope skate is available in my neck of the woods. Thanks for another inspiring recipe.

Terry B January 7, 2010 at 3:57 am

Hi, Melissa! Sounds like we’re lucky to be living in Chicago with places like Dirk’s, where we can get skate. And we will get together one of these days soon—and no, you won’t have to do the dishes.

Thanks, Laura! I really liked your post on your parents’ home. I can see you came by your cooking urges honestly.

Dani—Since we’ve gotten around to cooking Israeli couscous, we really enjoy it. And that patina color comes from sautéing it for a few minutes before adding the cooking liquid. I hope you can find skate too—it really is delicious.

Sylvia January 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Your pictures are amazing and the recipe looks delicious. I have heard that skate is yummy however, be warned it goes bad quickly. This is likely why you don’t see it for sale often. I had a bad experience at a restaurant on the west coast and had to send it back. While all fish have a short shelf life, this one is more unstable.

Will try the recipe with a substitute! Yum!

Toni January 9, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Now the trick is to find skate……I’ll check the local fish markets. Any fish meuniere is terrific – and I love the photo with the Israeli couscous and salad!

Terry B January 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Thanks, Sylvia! We actually had our skate for a day or two before we got around to cooking it, and it was fine. One trick I learned from Helen over at Beyond Salmon about keeping fish for a couple of days is to pack it with ice packs [I use the refreezable kinds] in the fridge to keep it colder than the ambient temperature in the fridge without actually freezing it.

Hi, Toni! You’ll probably have better luck finding skate at an actual fish store than the seafood department of a grocery store. But you’re right—any mild white-fleshed fish cooked this way is quite good.

Lauren January 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I love skate! I think that it’s funny that the fishmonger thought that you might have spent some time in England for selecting it – that might be the first time in US history that good food is associated with England (yeah, I know, another tired joke about bad English food). Happy New Year Terry!

Anne January 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I am definitely trying this! Looks clean and delicious!

zara January 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Beutiful! It looks like a seashell.

foodie February 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Skate sure has come along way from being pawned off as abalone. Very apealing plate. Perfectly prepared ala meuniere. Nice job.

Melanie May 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm

This recipe is delicious–I have eaten skate with a red wine reduction sauce too–it is great as well!

mike zarchin August 6, 2010 at 1:20 am

i recently caught several skate surf fishing at Lewis ,Deleware. I released them becauase until now I didn’t know that they were edible. Please ,if at all possible would you send me instructions on how to filet them.I read in another article that touching their skin causes a release of urin ,leaving an amonia smell on your hands and the fish as well. How can this be avoided in the fileting process? I sincerely appreciate your assistance. Thanks, Mike

Laura December 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I came across your post on Tastespotting when I was searching for a simple preparation for some skate I picked up at the fish market today. I skipped the capers, because I had none, but I threw a few halved cherry tomatoes in the pan with the parsley and lemon juice. It was really lovely and made for a great Christmas Eve dinner, so thanks!

JillMant November 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Lovely picture and since my husband is British, I will have to get on board with the Skate! Now to see if I can find it in Colorado (-;

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