Skate on a plate: stingrays and relatives do indeed make good eating.
Do they taste like scallops? You bet. Do some Florida restaurants serve them as scallops? I doubt it. The procurement of stingray "scallops" in restaurant quantity would cost more than buying the real thing. But it's a good topic for debate at the dockside bar.
In my estimation, the perfect size stingray for the table is one with a wing-span of around 18 inches to two feet. Smaller ones don't yield enough meat to make the effort worthwhile and those with a span much greater than two feet tend to be stringy and tough, although the fillets can still be quite good if parboiled or baked.
You'll find suggested recipes on this page, but let me hasten to assure you that fillets from a two-foot stingray can be cooked in any way you prefer. Sauteed is my favorite style, but I have also enjoyed them fried and grilled.
If you are skilled at filleting flounders you won't have much trouble transferring your talent to stingrays, for the procedure is nearly identical, the difference being that rays have cartilage in place of bones. Here's how to proceed:
With the ray lying flat on the cleaning table, poke with your finger to find the line where the tender wing joins the hard back. Using a sharp knife, slice downward along that line from front to back, just deep enough to reach the cartilage.
Next, turn the knife blade flat and work it along the top of the cartilage out toward the wingtip--just like separating the fillet from the bones of a typical fish. Do the same for the opposite wing.
Now turn the ray on its back and fillet the undersides of both wings in the same manner. The bottom fillets will be thinner and smaller--but good. The final step is to skin the four fillets by running the knife between flesh and skin.
An alternate cleaning method is possible, and perhaps preferable when working with a pretty large ray, say one with a three-foot wingspan or greater. Here you simply cut off the wing, place it in a pot, and simmer it for about 30 minutes. Unless you have a very big pot, you'll need to cut the wing in half. Once parboiled, the skin comes off rather easily. Neither is it difficult to scrape the meat away from the cartilage.
You can kill two birds with one stone by adding spices or other flavorings to the water in which you parboil the wing, and once you flavor it up you can refer to the water as court bouillon. Many cookbooks, including (blush) my own Angler's Cookbook includes recipes for court bouillons. An easy and delicious one calls for adding salt and pepper, plus a couple of lemon slices and a half-cup of white wine or a quarter-cup of vinegar to each two cups of water.
Boiled ray meat lends itself to many scrumptious treatments. In small bits, it is as good as crabmeat or bay scallops in cold salads and pasta sauces. In slabs or slices it needs only a quick searing on each side, plus your pet sauce, to become a barbecue treat.
Years ago, long before I ever (knowingly) sampled a stingray, yet another system of preparation was described to me. The myth of stingray-for-scallop substitution in restaurants was widespread at the time, so it sounded logical to me. This method requires a sort of cookie cutter made by sharpening the edge of a two-inch iron pipe with a file or grinding wheel. When hammered though the wing of a ray, the makeshift cutter produces a neat plug of meat which, after the skin is sliced away, might pass as a scallop--in taste only. Anyone who falls for the masquerade is bound to get wise when they bite into the cartilage. On the other hand, you still might fool your guests with the accompanying recipe for mock scallops.
2 stingray wings, filleted, skinned, cubed 2 eggs beaten 1 cup plain bread crumbs (more if needed) Salt and pepper Garlic powder
Cubes from the thickest portion of the wing are best for this treatment, although thinner parts are good too. Sprinkle cubes lightly or to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Dip cubes in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs. Fry at about 350 degrees until golden brown.
STINGRAY WITH CAPERS
2 stingray fillets (appr. 1 1/2 lbs. total) 2 oz. butter 3 tbsp. drained capers 2 tbsp. vinegar from the capers
Place ray fillets in a shallow pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender (or use ray meat already parboiled per directions in the article). Melt butter in a small saucepan and cook until it turns brown. Add the capers and vinegar and heat until bubbling. Drain the fillets, place on a warm platter, pour the sauce overall and serve immediately. Serves 5 or 6.
Stingray fillets, about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. 2 oz. melted butter 2 tbsp. lemon juice 1/2 tsp. dried parsley 1/8 tsp. paprika 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
Set broiler on low to medium. Combine melted butter and lemon juice in a small bowl. Cover a broiler pan with foil and brush with 2 tablespoons of mixture. Mix together garlic salt, parsley, paprika and white pepper. Sprinkle spice mixture on both sides of fillets.
Broil fillets until meat flakes, about 10 minutes. Brush fillets again with lemon butter and sprinkle with paprika before serving. Serves 4 or 5.
By VIC DUNAWAY, Contributing Editor