Tonight's tale of woe...I went to make this contest recipe:
and when I opened the stockpot in which my skate had been cooking, I caught a whiff of ammonia. Further sniffing confirmed this (and sort of torched my sinuses...). First time this has ever happened to me (I'm so embarrassed, this has never happened to me before, maybe I just had too much to drink...), and I tossed it, but want to know if any really knowledgeable picklers can add to my store of knowledge on this. Some (I googled and found some discussion on chowhound, but who am I going to trust? Some anonymous poster on Chowhound or my fellow picklers??) simply dismiss it as 'fish gone off', but from what I've been able to find, it actually has to do with their not being processed properly after catching? Same issue with sharks, apparently. Saw one suggestion that soaking in either an acid or in baking soda before cooking can solve this. But presumably one of those answers is wrong since soda is alkaline? Also saw some folks (usually the ones who said it was just off) suggesting that skate is highly fragile/perishable, which actually, from my farmer market days, I don't think is true. We had a fisherman who would sometimes come to market and when he had fresh-caught skate he would tell me that I should keep it in the fridge for a few days before cooking or it would be too tough. What say ye? It's too late for this dinner (we had pizza delivered, how lame is that?), but I do love skate and want to try that recipe!

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1 Comment

Fantastic M. January 25, 2011
Sharks, skates, and other fish break down and smell of ammonia faster than "regular" fishes. This is because primitive fishes go directly from urea in blood found throughout the body(you could consider urea as a short once component of a protein) to ammonia. "Regular" fishes go through the extra process of a long-chained protein breakdown into short chained-proteins which take time, then eventually breakdown to ammonia. This breakdown process is dictated by temperature. The sooner you ice the primitive fish the slower the breakdown(gutting also helps).
There are other factors. Sharks caught in the colder waters will breakdown faster when caught because their body chemistry is designed to operate at their ambient cold temperatures. On the other hand, sharks that live in warm waters when hoisted up into similar or colder temperatures will not break down as fast.
Aside from above, what determines a shark to be ammonia tasting(besides being unprocessed for a loooong time) is the sauce it is prepared with. Ammonia is a base, if the sauce contains any acidity(vinegar, citrus fruit, wine, etc), it neutralizes the ammonia. Hence, "fresh" tasting. If you ever wondered why Southeast Asian fish soups tend to be sour, it is for the same reason-to neutralize the base, ammonia. However, in their case, it is the high tropical temperature that breaks down the long-chained proteins into ammonia.
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