Ray Spines in Black Bean Sauce

“Ray Spines”, sounds like the name an author might inflict on a dodgeball insurance salesman who wears a Hawaiian shirt and a pork pie hat. His long suffering wife would have to be called Barb and he would have a minor role in a particularly gruesome murder mystery. That’s one Ray Spines for you. My ray spines are a different kettle of fish. Let me back the boat up a bit.

I was in my local fishmonger, George’s Fish Shop in Monkstown Farm on Dublin’s south side. The business is now run by the late George Richardson’s children, Lisa, Graham and Darren. They have a multi-generational attachment with the fishing industry and they all know their cockles from their muscles, as it were. This really helps when it comes to trying out the unusual and interesting. On my most recent trip, I was lucky enough to get some ray cheeks and to have Graham convince me that I needed to try the ray spines too. I’m glad I did. I decided to give the spines and cheeks an Oriental treatment and cooked a dish of Ray Cheeks and Spines in Black Bean Sauce. If you ever find yourself with access to either cheeks or spines, give this a go.


  • 300 gms of ray cheeks and spines
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of preserved black beans
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 5cm of ginger root
  • 2 red chillis
  • 200 gms of soft stem broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons of oil for frying

The first thing to do is to reconstitute the black beans. Do this by pouring over some boiling water and letting them sit for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

I can’t resist shooting falling stuff. These are the fermented black beans.

The fish doesn’t take a lot of cooking. Neither does the broccoli. Steam the broccoli until it gets a hot green colour. Then dip it in iced water to arrest cooking. Drain the black beans. Slice the ginger and garlic up nice and fine. Do likewise with the chillis.

Heat the oil in a hot wok. Dust the fish with the corn flour. Fry until golden and just undercooked. Reserve and keep warm.

The ray is a delightful fish. It is very light and has a velvet texture.

Add the garlic, ginger and chillis. Stir for about 30 seconds. A nice aroma will lift your senses. Add the rice wine and stir until it heats enough to allow the alcohol to cook off (just below boiling). Add the soy sauce and stir to combine. Add the black beans and stir.

There’s a punch of flavour in there. It provides a lovely backdrop for the fish,

Add back the fish and add the broccoli. Stir to warm through.

The broccoli is a lovely ‘hot green’ colour.

Serve over Thai fragrant rice. Ray Spines may be rarer than a crim in a cheap detective novel. They are delicious and worth cooking when you can get them.

This is one of the ray cheeks about to meet its maker.

We served bowls of rice and a central ‘fish’ plate. There is little evidence that Ray Spines was ever here. Talk to your fishmonger or a librarian. Enjoy this. It is a real treat.

Do you need any other evidence as to the quality of this dish?

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Latest comments
  • Is ray in Dublin the same as what I’d call skate? Do the spines still have a nasty bit of bone or cartilage in? I’ve never seen them sold, but the fish man in Intermarché might be chucking them away when he cuts the wings for sale. I like skate but Mrs K doesn’t like the texture.

  • Dear Conor,
    You have set an obviously high bar here, but if I may.
    How does a butcher introduce his wife?
    “I’d like you to meet Patty”
    Boom Boom

  • Ray spines, that’s a new one to me. We get skate wings, my grandma used to make a lemony soup with them, but I’ve never seen spines for sale.

  • They look delicious.
    I caught a Thornback Ray, while fishing round the Needles, many years ago. Stupidly we just ate the wings.

      • Exactly! Most of the hake caught around Britain goes to Spain, because it’s not a popular fish here.

  • Conor, your intro was a riot (in a funny way). Like Mad Dog, I’ve caught ray’s in my time but just keep the wings, it never occurred to me to do otherwise. Silly me. Now, I’ve not seen ray cheeks or spines at our fishmonger either, but I’ll ask. How about using halibut cheeks for this? Nice falling bean shot…

  • You are very funny Mr. Boffin! This is a lovely dish. During my mother’s Chinese phase, when I was in my teens, she’d often use fermented bean paste and surprisingly, I loved it! This brings back lovely memories.

  • I believe many rays are protected in Australia; I’ve certainly never seen any for sale in the fish market either here, in NSW or in Victoria. But I should think that recipe would work well with other fish…

      • Maybe some nice barramundi or mangrove jack. And we can get it very fresh indeed, pretty much straight off the boat.

  • A great food story about a fishy ingredient I have never seen here. Geography again! Black beans used to be rather popular here but mostly in Cantonese cooking not so much seen these days – well, not in this house. Love broccoli and reading about and looking at the one you used, it may be what is termed Chinese broccoli here . . .

  • I was thinking that I had never seen Ray for sale in Australia – but Kate above clarified that for me. I love the sound of this dish and think Monk Fish might work well, or perhaps Snapper…. lovely photo’s too! A pleasure to read.

  • Conor your some man to tell a story !!! Looks delicious 😉

  • Your intro was so very clever, I loved it. 😀 As others have mentioned, I’ve not seen Ray in our fish markets but I think this technique would be wonderful with fish. I’m pinning…thank you!

  • A cracker of a recipe. Love the intro. Am now also hungry for a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

      • I don’t think I’ve read those, will seek them out. Thanks!

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