When you’re looking to cook skate, it’s always best to call ahead for availability or, better yet, call to order in advance. Even with an advance order, you might have to wait a day or two for the skate to come in; it is often a bycatch.
The fresh skate wing you can buy in the Washington area year-round will typically come filleted, although it may still have some white connective tissue on the underside that should be removed before cooking. Some fillets may have a few spiny bits of cartilage still attached; they are edible but not always desirable.
The skate’s flesh should be pearlescent and shiny, with only a slight pinkish hue on the underside. Ask to smell it; if there’s a whiff of ammonia, do not buy it. The skate wing fillets are cut away from either side of a wide fan of cartilage; the bottom fillet typically has more pinkish-to-red areas, which may indicate how the blood was drained from the wings after it was caught. (Fillets with the darker areas may taste fishier, a characteristic some people prefer.)
Here’s a look at various states of skate (top and underside) we bought from area vendors. We called ahead to order and asked to receive confirmation calls when the fish came in. We included a wholesale supplier to compare what we can buy vs. restaurant-quality fish.
Skate also can be ordered in advance via Southern Maryland Seafood in the District’s Eastern Market and Pescadeli in Bethesda, but it was not available for this comparison.
District Fishwife. Nice-size, well-shaped fillets with good color and wing formation; slight trim required for a little connective tissue on the underside and some cartilage. $16 per pound; at Union Market in Northeast Washington. 202-543-2592. Grade: A-
Congressional Seafood. Smallest of all the fillets but well shaped and fairly well trimmed; moist, with a nice shine. Some connective tissue to be trimmed off. (A wholesale supplier; made available via a restaurant; $5.95 to $6.50 per pound). In Jessup, Md. 301-621-1933. Grade: B
Ivy City Smokehouse and Market. Good color and shine, but more trimming of skin, cartilage and connective tissue needed. $9.25 per pound, in Northeast Washington. 202-529-3300. Grade: B-
BlackS alt Fish Market. The thinnest fillets we bought, fairly well trimmed and with nice color but with some connective tissue on the underside. (This market says it carries skate on most weekdays but not on weekends.) $15.99 per pound; in the District’s Palisades neighborhood. 202-342-9101. Grade: B-
The Market at River Falls. More pink-to-red areas; good-size fillets with a nice shape but not quite as shiny as some others. More trimming needed. $11.99 per pound, in Potomac, Md. 301-765-8001. Grade: C
Ocean City Seafood. Good color, shiny; but a fair amount of skin and connective tissue to be removed. $10.99 per pound, in Silver Spring, Md. 301-588-7553. Grade: C-
Super H Mart. Large untrimmed wings, with an overpowering ammonia smell (this sample was the only one with a telltale aroma). Cartilage and connective tissue still attached. A request for further filleting in the store was refused. $5.99 per pound; in Fairfax. 703-273-0570. Grade: F