skate cheek, peppered pancetta and roasted fennel salad

I keep buying things I don’t know how to cook in an attempt to ensure some new year creativity and inspiration in my cooking. Skate cheeks were reduced in price and a completely random choice, other than a vague thought that, as an underused cut, it would tick an eco-ethical box somewhere.

Browned butter, lemon and capers is apparently the usual way to serve them. I’d have loved this but David wouldn’t so I decided to play around and see if inspiration struck.

A slab of peppered smoked pancetta seemed like a good way to start and I sliced then fried this over a low heat, in a mix of butter and olive oil, with some sliced garlic. Once the pancetta started to crisp I added some slices of roasted fennel (c15 minutes at 180c). After a few minutes I pushed this to the edges of the pan and then added the skate cheeks in batches – the size difference was substantial, with the large 5cm cheeks taking c12 minutes to cook and the smaller 2 cm ones about half the time (if the small ones cook too quickly just rest them on top of some of the fennel and pancetta mix so they are slightly off the heat).

While the skate cheeks cooked I made a dressing of verjuice, vincotto, olive oil plus salt and pepper, which was used to dress some rocket. The hot skate cheeks, pancetta and fennel mixwas finished with a squeeze of lemon juice then served on top of the dressed leaves. I added a final garnish of a few oak-roasted tomatoes and a drizzle of basil oil.

Lots of layers of flavour but easy enough to pull together on a slow sunday afternoon and easily adapted, depending what you have in.

The skate cheeks have a really lovely delicate flavour/texture - somewhere between scallops and monkfish, i think. i have another pack in the freezer so, if you have any inspiration for how i should cook them please let me know.