Friday, April 6, 2012

FISH OF BRAZIL - Ray or Skate (Arraia)

There are at least 500 species of fish in the zoological superorder Batoidea, and the vast majority of them are edible, or at least certain parts of them are edible. This family of fish is commonly known as ray or skate in English and arraia (pronounced a-HIGH-a) in Portuguese, and is distinguished by its cartilaginous skeleton, flattened body and enlarged pectoral fins, commonly called "wings". The rays are close relatives of the sharks, and one of the oldest surviving families of fish.

Rays are an under-appeciated food fish in many parts of the world, although much use is made of them in Asian and African cultures. Sophisticated diners in Europe and North America know that skate is a wonderfully delicious fish, but the commercial market for the fish is not large. Some food historians posit the fact that some rays are poisonous (sting-rays) for reluctance of many in the USA and other parts of the world to eat ray, even though the venom of poisonous rays is restricted to the tail, which is not edible.

Uncooked skate wing
The part of the fish that is commonly considered edible is the large pectoral fin, the wing. In fish markets which sell ray or skate, it is often labeled skate wings. In the wings, the white, fibrous flesh lies between parallel rows of cartilage, and can easily be separated from the cartilage once the fish is cooked.

In some parts of the world, the wings are cooked and served whole and the flesh is separated from the cartilage by the diner. In Brazil, though, most recipes for arraia are soups or stews, and the fibrous flesh is separated and flaked during the cooking process, leaving the final dish without any cartilaginous bones to be removed.

Pastel de arraia
Arraia, flaked and seasoned, is also a favorite filling for the savory deep-fried pastries Brazilians call pastel. It also pops up on bar-snack menus in the form of a bolinho, a small round ball of arraia mixed with mashed potato or mashed manioc which is deep-fried and served hot. Because the flavor and texture of arraia in a bolinho closely resembles the popular bolinho de bacalhau, made with much more expensive salt cod, arraia is sometimes called "poor man's bacalhau."

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