Oh hai Spring! It’s March in New England but my windows have been open for days, and today I rode through Brighton in a tank-top, getting some much needed sun on my oh-so-pale shoulders. This false spring, as Hemingway called it, is so alluring that I fight against the voices that whisper “global warming” and just bask in the day while I have it. Of course, with the forecast heralding sunny low 70′s all week, it looks like we’ll be having it at least until next weekend. To welcome the warm breezes and clear skies, I purchased two angelic skate wings at New Bedford’s seafood mecca, Fisherman’s Market. I draped them in a silky snappy golden hollandaise, and served them with some spinach and grits extraordinaire. Light fish, rich sauce, cheesy starch, and good greens — what more could a girl want on a perfect Sunday night?
Pan Seared Skate Wing, Molten Cheddar Grits, Wilted Spinach, and Spring Onion Hollandaise
2 skinned, boned, cleaned fresh-smelling skate wings
flour, for dredging
1/2 cup grits
1 1/2 cup water
4 1″ cubes cheddar cheese
2 sticks butter, divided
1 lb fresh spinach leaves
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt, black pepper, EVOO
1 large spring onion
(ignore the caperberries in the picture — I ended up not using them)
Good grits require a 1 to 3 ratio: 1/2 cup grits + 1 1/2 cups water = perfection. While I bring my water, salted, to a boil, I liberally butter up two 6oz ramekins and measure out my grits.
After 10 minutes or so, stirred occasionally, set covered over low heat, with a tablespoon of butter – and they’re perfect.
I fill each ramekin halfway, drop a couple nuggets of a nice raw milk cheddar on top…
…. then fill to the brim with the rest of the hot grits. These will get set into a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, right before serving, to puff up and bake.
I think I’ve mentioned before how much Clayton and I love animation, cartoons, and comic books. So we couldn’t resist getting Puss In Boots on demand recently, and we laughed our heads off. I loved the texture of Humpty’s skin/shell — the perfect representation of an egg’s unique spherical smooth bitty bumped roundness. My camera doesn’t get as close as I want it to; I need to upgrade. Anyway, I need the nuclei of four of these babies.
Like so. (I’m terrible at cracking eggs. I never get whole yolks, and I never miss getting shell. Sigh.) I squeeze half a lemon into the bowl and whisk very very well.
Along with a stick of melted butter, whisked over a double boiler, my lemon-juiced eggs froth and firm and double in volume. I add tablespoons of hot water if it gets thick, and more melted better until I have it…
… just right. Frothy and rich, I add some chopped spring onion greens, salt and pepper, and set aside until service.
The final – and easiest – component of this meal is the skate wing. Skate is a type of stingray, a creature of which I have nightmares (as I do of most aquatic life – a mild phobia), but in which I do like to indulge when I see it. One has to be careful with skate — it can stink of ammonia, so be sure to smell it before buying it (the fishmonger should be happy to hold a filet up to your nose). I’ve made it before when ammonia permeated the flesh so thoroughly that I had to scrap the whole thing. But when it’s right, it is a beautiful, delicate, and delicious fish. All I do is sprinkle both sides with salt and ground pepper, and dredge it in flour.
A couple tablespoons of butter, and a few glugs of EVOO go into my largest non-stick fry pan, set over high heat until it froths. (At this point, I put my two ramekins of grits into my preheated oven to bake. They’ll need about 10 minutes – just enough time to finish the fish and spinach.
Both filets lay like angel’s wings, sizzling the second they hit my hot fats. I recently purchased a crescent shaped spatula, which I flattened against the center of each piece when it began to buckle in off the heat. About 4 minutes on this side…
…before flipping each to reveal perfectly toasted golden brown deliciousness. Cook for another 4-5 minutes before moving to warm plates, reserving the leftover grease.
I press my washed spinach leaves into the pan, and turn them over a few times with tongs until they are completely wilted. I salt and pepper them liberally.
My fish is plated, my spinach is ready, and my little bundles of cheddar and corn are popping out of their dishes. They’re hard to flip (because they’re hot and slick), but flip them I do.
My plate is a study in swirls: the striated flesh of my skate wing shoulders a swathe of oniony rich thick fluffy golden butter cream, and a coiled nest of wilted greens, and a locus of corn grits with a sharp melting center. In the light of the setting spring sun, Clayton and I each tuck our napkins under our chins and poise our forks above our dinners. With a smiling look at each other, and a deep sigh — the kind only the satisfaction of spring can bring – we eat. And we eat well, dear readers — very, very well.