a couple of years ago, i tagged along with my mother to france on a business trip and ate something that, if i were staring down the barrel of a gun, i'm certain i'd ask for my last meal.
at the versailles RER train stop, there are two courses - you can veer right toward versailles, or left, down quiet alleys. on the corner sits a small brasserie called le lyautey. the special was the skate meunière. i had never heard of skate. what is this?
my mother ordered a beaujolais. at the time i wasn't a wine drinker, so i scanned the menu and asked in awkward french "Avez-vous le coca light?" he looked at me with the most barely concealed exhaustion and disdain.
"we have it. it's not good - but we have it."
it was the most entertaining moment of the trip. oh, and the fish! so light, so pillowy and slightly sweet. covered in brown butter and bright lemon, grassy parsley and briny capers like eating the sea. i became fixated on finding skate but never had much luck in the fishmarkets nearby. skate's commonly been seen as a trash fish - undesirable, so why stock it?
skate is a cartliingous fish similar to a stingray. what you're seeing are the two diamond shaped "wings" or fins, generally sold skinned and deboned. seriously, don't invest the effort into trying to skin and bone the thing yourself.
a meunière (meaning miller's wife) dish is an item, usually a flaky white fish like sole or skate, dredged first in flour and then covered with a very basic and rustic sauce of butter, lemon, and parsley. this is commonly taught to culinary students when first getting the grip of sauteing and panfrying as it's a great technique to know and imparts knowledge of getting a crisp golden crust.
2 skate wings, deboned
all purpose flour, for dredging
1-2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp capers
salt and pepper
dry and season the skate on both sides. dredge lightly in flour and tap off excess. set a pan (anything but nonstick) on high heat. walk away for a bit. go to the bathroom. then put the oil in, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and swirl with some movement (why don't i give you an exact amount? the size of the pan you're using will change the amount. i used about 2 tbsp for a 10 inch saute pan). walk away again. let the oil get hot. you want to see it start to smoke. don't worry, it won't catch on fire. (canola's smoke point is 400 degrees Fahrenheit. its flash point is considerably higher.) we want this pan to be killer hot so that when the fish touches the pan, the proteins cook as soon as it hits the oil but before it touches the metal surface of the pan. this causes the meat proteins to curl in on each other instead of outwardly, where they would then cause the fish to stick.
let the fish saute for several minutes over medium high until you see a nice crisp golden-brown exterior. using a spatula or peltex (fish turner), flip to the other side and repeat. once brown on either side, remove and rest on paper towels to blot oil.
pour off any excess oil from the pan and reduce heat to medium. add the butter and stir in pan until butter browns and smells nutty. immediately remove from heat and add lemon juice, parsley, and capers. this sauce will break, that's normal. spoon over fish and serve.
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