Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
The first recorded meal eaten by Europeans in Australia was Stingray served with warrigal greens aboard the Endeavour; the Ray was caught in Botany Bay, which Captain Cook initially called Sting-Ray Bay. Joseph Banks noted in his journal that: “...the fish itself was not quite so good as a scate nor was it much inferior...”.
Rays, along with Sharks, are cartilaginous fish, with a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone; such fish are ancient, pre-dating today’s bony fish on the evolutionary tree. Rays differ from Sharks in that their pectoral (side) fins are greatly enlarged and attached to their heads, often forming a large disc shaped ‘body’, to which a much smaller (often thin, whip-like) tail is attached; most are bottom dwellers as their flattened shape suggests.
The term Ray is used to refer to over 600 species worldwide, including some of the largest fish in the ocean; most belong to the order Rajiforms, which is divided into three main groups ‘true’ Rays, Skates and Guitarfishes.
Rays have flattened oval or diamond-shaped discs, mostly with very thin tails with stinging spines on them. They’re found right around the Australian coast, generally close to shore, can grow to almost 9 metres long (including their tails) and weigh over 350kg, though they’re typically sold at less than 50kg. There are four main families of ‘true’ Rays in Australia:
Skates (Rajidae family) have a roughly diamond-shaped disc, attached to a thin, relatively short tail that is thicker than Rays’. They generally have sharp, thorny protrusions along their backs (which some Rays also have) but no stinging barbs, and a pointy, sometimes elongated, snout. They live in much deeper waters than Rays and Guitarfish and are abundant on the continental shelf and upper slope off southern Australia, occurring around most of the coast except for the very north. There are at least 25 species in Australia, some of the most commonly seen are: Sydney (Dipturus australis), Melbourne (D. whitleyi), Grey (D. canutus), Whitespotted (D. cerva) Longnose (D. confuses) and Thornback (Dentiraja lemprieri) Skates.
Guitarfishes look like a cross between a Ray or Skate and a Shark. They have a large, flat, Ray-like disc formed by the (at least partial) joining of head and pectoral fins, attached to a long, well-developed tail with Shark-like fins. It is this tail meat that is generally eaten, rather than the pectoral fins. There are two families of Guitarfishes:
Caught mainly as by-catch, these fish represent very good value. There’s little, if any, differentiation between species in the market; it’s generally the pectoral fins of Rays and Skate that are eaten and the names ‘flaps’ and ‘wings’ tend to be used interchangeably for Ray and Skate fins. Smaller fish are more tender than larger ones, and it is normal for the flesh to gape a little in long strands. The tail meat of Guitarfish is generally pale pink with dark red muscle bands and is always sold skinned; they’re commonly sold around 1-2kg though they can grow much larger.
Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months, at -18ºC or lower. The blood of all cartilaginous fish contains urea, which gives their flesh a slight ammonia smell once they are dead, this is normal and disappears with cooking.
Ray and Skate are very popular in Europe and parts of Asia, but are less commonly eaten in Australia; with cartilage rather than bones, they are ideal for children and people who find fish bones annoying. The central cartilage in Skate and Ray fins is easy to remove, either before or after cooking, and any small pieces of cartilage soften with cooking and can be eaten. They generally have a mild flavour, low oiliness, medium-firm texture and are moderately moist. The meat is reasonably forgiving and will remain moist even if slightly overcooked. It can be steamed, poached, deep-fried, stir-fried, baked, or barbecued and works well with acidic ingredients such as citrus, tomato, cider and vinegar. Guitarfish has a slightly stronger flavour and similar firm, moist texture, making it ideal for kebabs, curries and stir-fries. Skate nobs, nodules of flesh cut from Skate tails, are popular in the UK.