Cook Inlet Dinosaur (July Daring Cooks)

Two months ago I joined the Daring Cooks. Now I am like a little crackhead jonesing for a fix every month come the 17th. That is the reveal date for the following month’s challenge. Well last month was one hell of a surprise. Sketchy from Sketchy’s Kitchen came up with a doozy, skate with traditional flavors powdered. This is a Grant Achatz recipe from the Alinea cookbook. Molecular cuisine in only my second month as a Daring Cook, you gotta love it.

Well the first hurdle was finding skate. That turned out to be the most fun. The very weekend following our reveal date, I was headed to Cook Inlet for some halibut fishing with my cousin Greg. We decided to launch out of Ninilchik (yes that is an actual town/beach) as opposed to our normal fishing grounds.

It turned out to be a flat calm day. We headed Southwest from the beach for about 15 minutes and dropped anchor in about 90 feet of water. The first hole was really slow. Just a couple of bites and no fish to speak of. So before we burned up all of our slack water, we moved another 10 or so minutes to the Southwest. While moving we spotted a large group of humpback whales at least a couple thousand yards to our North. Thinking this was a good sign, we quickly dropped anchor and got to fishing. The tide slowed to nothing and the bite was on. Nothing big but we started catching some halibut, a couple angle tooth flounder, even a pollack. Greg was the first to catch a skate.

Well I was not going to let an oppurtunity like this go by. This guy went right into the fish cooler for the challenge. Throughout the day we ended up pulling in 3-4 more skate and all were bigger than this. Not knowing if I was going to like it, only the first one was kept.

As the fishing continued, that group of whales starting getting closer. They would surprise you with their distinctive deep blows upon surfacing. Here is a video I took while on an ocean kayak expedition in Southeast Alaska that will give you an idea of that sound.


At one point two whales were frolicking within 20-30 yards of the boat and headed right at us. One went under and the other veered to the stern. I think I pooped a little on that pass. The whales know that you are there. I have also never had any kind of bumping or anything crazy like that, but let me just say, this time it was a little too close for comfort.

Now on to the dirty work. I just cut off the wings and froze until I had the opportunity to filet.

I feel the need to stress this part, these things are downright creepy. Their skin feels like sandpaper. Long after they are dead, the wingtips will flutter. They have a line of spikes/bumps down their spine. I kept getting the heebee jeebeez while cutting it up. They are definitely not like any fish I have ever cleaned. Prehistoric is the first word that comes to mind.

Alinea at Home provided lots of help on this one, along with Sketchy’s challenge post.  My interpretation of the recipe is something like this.

  1. beurre monte poached skate topped with banana and browned cream powders
  2. beurre monte poached green beans
  3. banana slices
  4. caper powder
  5. onion powder
  6. simple syrup poached lemon peel powder
  7. parsley/cilantro powder

Now back at home I got started on the powders. I went with oven drying at 170F. All of my powders were dried on parchment paper, over a wire rack, over a cookie sheet. The herbs were poached and shocked in ice water. Then towel dried before dehydrating.

Then lemon peels were triple poached in simple syrup ( I took that to mean quickly dipping in the boiling simple syrup 3 times). Everything was chopped to a small uniform size to facilitate even drying.

After drying, I thoroughly ground in a spice/coffee grinder. Then passed everything through a fine mesh strainer.

Starting bottom left in the tupperware (clockwise): ‘brown butter’ toasted banana(I used dehydrated banana chips from the store) and dehydrated milk, lemon peel,  shitake mushroom, and red onion

Starting at the bottom in white ramekins(clockwise): parsley, caper, sage, and basil

I made a couple of extra powders to play with later. The process of making the powders was fairly straightforward. It seemed a little overwhelming the first time I read through  the challenge recipe but it really wasn’t. Just a few minutes of prep and then the oven does most of the work.

Now for the meal. As with any meal, get your mis en place all ready. That means have everything chopped, fileted, whisked, etc…. before you start the meal in earnest. The green beans were finely sliced and I fileted across the grain of the skate wing.

I quickly made the beurre monte by boiling a very small amount of water ( about 1/8 cup) and then whisking into that cold butter (3 sticks). It makes an emulsion if done properly. This is then doubled by whisking in warm water. Not too hot or your emulsion can break. Mine worked the very first time.

Divide the beurre monte, 1/4 for the beans and the remaining for the fish.

In the fish portion I added several Tbsp of green peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves.

 The beans take about 7-8 minutes after the sauce is warm. The directions say cook all the water out of the sauce but that results in overcooked beans in my opinion. Just keep an eye on them and pull out with a slotted spoon when ready.

For the first attempt I decided on replacing the banana with something more savory. Not that I don’t enjoy bananas, it just didn’t seem like the fish dish matched well with that flavor. I still may try that combo but for now the bananas were nixed. I went with slices of potato browned gently in butter and olive oil.

After giving the beans a head start I put the skate pieces into the warmed, not boiling, beurre monte. About 2 minutes on the first side and then flip. I turned off the heat and let it go about another minute.

Here is the first attempt. Be sure to season everything at this point. Salt and pepper are a must.

Plating was beans, potato, then the skate topped withthe ‘brown butter’ powder. On the side was the lemon, onion, parsley, and caper powders arranged in a swirl pattern. I was very happy with the skate itself. The beurre poaching adds lots of richness and keeps everything deliciously moist. I loved how the skate looked like the bleached out spine of a long dead creature. It kind of communicated in the final dish some of my very first impressions of the live fish.

However I think on this attempt, the potatoes were sliced too thick and the beans were just a little past perfect. Most would think they were fine but I wanted everything in this meal to be perfect. Daring Cooks are a talented bunch and I can’t just say “that should be good enough”. Besides, I have one more skate wing in freezer and plenty of powders to play with.

So 3-4 days later I had worked up a new plan with just a few changes. I had consulted “The Flavor Bible” to see what it thought about skate. Eric Ripert is referenced recommending sage with skate. Other chefs also like mushroom pairings with the skate. Hence the above extra powders of shitake and sage.

This time I cut the skate with the grain of the meat. It makes for a different presentation. I also switched out the potato with cooked, set, then pan fried slices of polenta.

Sometimes I forget just how much I love polenta cooked this way.

 Plating this time was very simple. I wanted the fish to be center stage and not overshadowed by the powders. The fish is the star and the powders should be thought of as just a sauce or condiment. I also kept the powders seperate so that each could be sampled individually or combined to taste.

This is not a dish I would have found by myself. It was surprising how the powders affected the enjoyment of the other items. They are not dry at all. The flavors are strong and make your mouth water providing a rush of flavor that was unexpected. I probably won’t cook this again but I have definitely taken from this recipe many lessons. Just last night I used the beurre monte poaching method on halibut for a version of Poor Mans Lobster that was much better than the same dish poached in court buillon. The powders are also a new tool in my cooking arsenal. Thank you for that Sketchy.

While you are here, check out some of my other posts. Also check back soon because more cooking is in store. A cuban style pig and lots of fishing are all on tap for the weekend.


~ by climbhighak on July 14, 2009.

29 Responses to “Cook Inlet Dinosaur (July Daring Cooks)”

  1. FINALLY! As I sit here icing my knee after physical therapy, I’ve been enjoying everyone’s take on this challenge, but yours is definitely one of the best. Loved the vid, the photos are spectacular, and your final dish (which I had a sneak peek of weeks ago at the DK) is simply gorgeous and mouth watering. Well done, Robert!

  2. You used polenta, which is such a great idea. Beautifully done!

  3. I found it so cool that you were able to catch a skate for this challenge! It looks like you did it justice and created a beautiful dish. Great job!

  4. Wow!! I am so impressed. I have to agree, that it’s pretty creepy that the wings still flutter–haha. I had no idea skate were so big. (I used chicken)

    • The one in the picture was the smallest one caught all day. I kept reading about them being on some San Francisco aquarium list of non sustainable fisheries. I call bullshit. These things are prospering nicely in Cook Inlet.

  5. You definitely get a gold star for catching your own freaking skate – really impressive and it just doesn’t get any fresher than that! Your dish looks gorgeous and that polenta is making my mouth water.

  6. What a wonderful posting – loved how you caught a skate for the challenge and the whales in the water sound so magical. Your final dishes look fabulous I’m with you polenta is one of my fav’s and always forget how good it is. Goregous teardrops of powders in the 2nd attempt. And it does seem that this was a challenge where you picked up several new skills and cooking techniques which is the point of the challenges, also this was ‘way outside everybody comfort zone’ but the final dish was surprisingly good. Do try the bananas once it is very nice with it the bananas add a great texture contrast. Cheers from Audax

  7. like everyone, i am just amazed at how you were able to go out and catch a skate for this – such a perfect way to start. and then perfectly executred as well, although i do think you should try the banana version 😉

    • It was very fortuitous coming upon the skates. We don’t usually catch them while fishing for halibut.

      I do admit my skepticism about the bananna with this dish. That being said, I do regret not trying it just once. Some of the online reviews of this recipe also colored my opinion.

  8. Wow! I love that you made polenta! And your powders are gorgeous!

  9. Congratulations on the fantastic post. Your photography says to me you are a fantastic cook. I am also a fisherperson but haven’t been in a long while so I am very jealous (especially looking at all those boy toys in your other fishing post). Nothing like fresh fish. Thanks for the video. It must be mind blowing to be out there with the whales.

    The polenta is one of my favourites as well, but I’ve never thought to pan fried it. I just love the way we can all learn so much from each other. Being a part of the DB’s and DC’s challenges is great. I thoroughly agree with you re the powders – and after searching on the Web for MC and all the different things you can do with it, I am completely blown away.

    • Summer in Alaska is a time of bounty. Many of my most enjoyable memories up here are related to fishing. Even on your worst day fishing, you have still spent the day out in the elements with good friends.

      This weekend I get to participate in an Alaska resident only subsistence fishery. We are allowed to dipnet up to 25 sockeye salmon for personal use. Check back after the weekend to see how I fared.

  10. Excellent execution all the way through! I loved how your series of skate pix capture the “prehistoric” quality of the fish from first catch to plating. I’m glad to hear dehydration was successful in 170 degree F oven. I thought it was too hot, so used the microwave, an experience I hope not to repeat. Your blog is great, a virtual visit to Alaska. Those sockeye tacos below look irresistible. I’m always looking for ways to jazz up salmon.

    • My thinking was that any temp below 212 F would be safe to dehydrate. Not sure of the science of that statement but it seemed sensible at the time I was working on my powders.

  11. Wow.. catching your own skate, I don’t think it gets much more daring than that. You win! The fried polenta just adds more points (I agree that it’s a delicious treat – coincidentally, it’s on the menu for tonight).

    Beautiful pictures, especially the close-ups of the ingredients. I also like your plating: clean and simple.

  12. Beautiful photos of your fishing trip and that weird looking skate-thing. Actually, it’s very cool that you caught your own. Great job on the challenge and the photos complement your progression very well.

  13. You are an “Extreme” Daring Cook … catching your own skate! I agree with Valerie … you win … hands down! I really enjoy the pictorial story that is a part of each of your posts. For a moment (after clicking my red shoes together) I was no longer in Kansas but fishing in Alaska! I wish I would have added some flavoring to the butter sauce as you did. Your final presentations were outstanding. Debbie

    • What do I win?

      If I had to pick a winner of the Daring Cooks this month, it certainly wouldn’t be me. I am just happy to be included with such a talented group of cooks and bloggers. Some of the platings presented were truly outstanding.

      The peppercorns and bay didn’t add as much flavor to the beurre monte as I thought it would. However, I did some halibut the same way and served some of the peppercorns on the fish. That did add the pepper bite I was looking for.

  14. Wow! My hats off to you! This is amazing.I admire your dedication when it comes to your cooking…you do mean business. I enjoyed this blog as i always do w/ the rest of your blogs. But this is just something else from the catch, to the powders up to the final plating..Job well done. So this is where you used your candied lemon peel you told me.
    You said the banana just didn’t match the other flavors…if ever you do something like this next time, may i suggest dried mangoes, i would imagine it’ll be better than the bananas.

  15. What a cool experience! They really are strange creatures aren’t they? I decided to try the bananas and was pleasantly surprised how well they worked with the dish.

  16. Great job! And I totally agree with you – I have also become massively addicted to the Daring Kitchen, and go through withdraw at work. 🙂

  17. Great job on your Daring Cooks Challenge! I live in Eagle River, and we fish a lot(mainly out of Whittier), but I have never caught a skate. I was bad this month and didn’t participate in the challenge, but I’ll be back next month. I’m enjoying reading your blog and seeing what a fellow Alaskan is up to.

  18. How interesting it is! Entering challenge out of fresh fish right from the sea! Love adding green peppercorns and bay leaves into poaching butter. Will try just that!


  19. Sharks also have skin that feels like sandpaper. I am envious of your whale video. Sigh.

    Great job on the challenge!

  20. Like most others, I envy your ability to catch fresh fish. I had high hopes of making it out this spring to do some trout fishing, but it rained for three months here. Of the two presentations, I think I prefer the second one better.

  21. It blew our minds this morning to read this post. In the late 1970s, Andrew spent a summer in Clam Gulch just north of Ninilchik — but also spent time in Ninilchik helping a friend run a buying station for a nearby fishery. It was that summer that he learned to truly love and appreciate salmon and halibut, not to mention the beauty of the area.

    So happy to learn that you found THE FLAVOR BIBLE, and that it is of help to you with your monthly Daring Cooks challenges — let alone out there in Andrew’s old stomping grounds!

    Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg
    Co-Authors, THE FLAVOR BIBLE

  22. Wow – I have been following your adventures through the DK forum but your post completely exceeded my expectations. Your photos are awesome – that skate is creepy – the polenta, divine (I love polenta that way!) What a fantastic job you did. I too will be poaching more fish this way.
    Can’t wait to read about your dipnet experience this weekend *jealous*
    And pork tamales? I thought I was gonna pee when you said you would throatpunch the Mexican Mafia for pork tamales! well, you certainly seem capable of making them (salmon fish tacos? egg yolk dumplings for breakfast?) Next time my daughters and I make them we will send you a dozen!
    Looking forward to your archives!

  23. Wow!! Your finished skate looks amazing =D. Awesome job with every aspect of this challenge – it never would have crossed my mind to catch my own skate, but you did it beautifully!!

  24. Awesome! I also love that you caught your own skate! I love skate but I wouldn’t know how to break one down. That’s definitely not something my school had the budget for. Love the whale video too. Eerie!

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