Eggs are a staple food for my family. Nearly everyday, we fry up several eggs in a spoonful of rendered lard, cooking just until the whites are set and the yolks are warm throughout. Our cast iron pans feel like a permanent fixture on our stove top, staying readily available to fry up an egg at any given notice.
With winter come and gone, the days are growing longer. Naturally, this is a time where I would see my hens egg production increase after a long winter slumber. Since our home is off-grid, we are unable to produce the extra power needed to run heat lamps, which are crucial in a northern climate if you intend on having your chickens produce throughout the winter. Instead, I put in an extra effort to feed and keep their water from becoming an ice block all winter, while maybe getting to 1 egg a week before it freezes solid in the bed of wood shavings.
Unless you are hardcore vegan, most people are cool with eggs. Maybe its because hens naturally produce eggs without the work of a rooster, but whatever it is, people seem to now understand that eggs are a superfood. Of course the diet of the hen is important as birds eating a variety of foods on pasture will produce a happier, tastier, and more nutritious end product.
While the benefits of land based eggs are widely known and appreciated, I want to spin the focus to the other egg, or shall I say, eggs. Roe, are the clump of eggs held inside the ovaries of fish and shellfish. Roe is a sacred food that can be seen consumed across the globe anywhere from North and South America, to Africa, Asia, and Europe. Although, it is a widely accepted food, most see as a food fit for royalty.
Not Just a Luxury Food
Caviar is likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fish eggs. Unless you've been to high end restaurants, chances are, the only time you've had a chance to consumed roe is while dining at sushi restaurants which often feature salmon roe (farm raised), and tobiko, the roe from the flying fish. These tiny little eggs add a beautiful color to meals and have that "pop" texture when consumed. Although, caviar is considered a delicacy and traditionally made from the roe of sturgeon, it is actually a fairly simple technique that can be done right in your home kitchen.
Growing up along the Connecticut shoreline, one of the most beloved spring foods was shad. This former "junk fish" made its way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Connecticut River where they would swim upstream into fresh waters to spawn. In the spring, menus around the state would feature fried shad roe served like usual with a side of tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon.
Salmon For Days!
In the summer of 2000, I decided I needed an adventure. So, I applied and got a job at a remote flying fishing lodge in Alaska. Within 2 months of getting hired, I was across the country and cooking fresh wild salmon, elk, moose, and other wild game for guests around the globe. When the opportunity came for me to be on the river, I was amazed by the amount of fish that filled the rivers and often thought about the Alaskan natives and the importance of this Keystone animal. For centuries, the native people of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest would harvest hundreds of salmon and dry their flesh and eggs for winter and beyond.
A True Fertility Food
It is said that fish roe was often saved for those looking to conceive as the nutrients found in fish roe helped promote fertility. The work of Dr. Price showed that fish roe was highly prized by wild people and often shaved for those looking to have children. Camille and I are firm believers that a nutrient dense diet is key to creating healthy babies and children. We know this does not start once our children are born, but rather, 6 months or more before conception. Essential nutrients like vitamin B12, A, and D can be found in quality fish roe, making it a food that I offer to Camille on a regular basis throughout both of her pregnancies.
Living above the 37th parallel means no natural vitamin D from November through March. So, #nakedsuntime won't do much much for Camille and I in the colder months. In order to keep my D levels at a normal range and to keep from getting the seasonal blues, I like to consume foods that are high in vitamin D. According to testing shared by WAPF, fish eggs contain 17,000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon. You can read more about this HERE.
How to Eat Fish Roe
So, now that you know a little bit more about fish roe, lets chat about how to best prepare it. Fish roe is heat sensitive, making it less nutritious the more you cook it. However, you are better off eating fully cooked roe than you are not eating it at all. Do what works best for you but the less you can heat it, the better off you are.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate fish eggs is to simply enjoy them as they come, raw. The nutrients in fish eggs are delicate so consuming them without the use of heat is one way to maximize their benefits. I'll also add, that similarly to sushi grade fish, fresh roe doesn't taste fishy, but has a salty-sweet thing going on.
Clearly, freshness matters here, so I wouldn't consume raw eggs unless I know they are from sustainable sources and are very fresh. I have easy access to fresh and frozen flounder roe, so I use what I can get. Most of the time, the frozen roe is clean and safe, so I will consume it raw.
I grew up eating a lot of panfried food. From chicken cutlets to eggplant parm, this technique is engrained in my memory, as it is a crucial step for making so many Italian American dishes. Where many go wrong is by using poor quality oils to do the cooking. Vegetable oils are heat sensitive which can turn rancid over time and cause inflammation in the body.
I've learned to upgrade this technique, first by using rendered lard which I have several cases of thanks to Misty Brook Farm in neighboring Albion, Maine. Their soy free pigs create delicious lard which I render 5 pounds at a time every few months.
Breading the roe can be done with an assortment of ingredients but I usually stick to local buckwheat flour, whisked eggs, and ground Abanaki flint corn grown by our friends at Songbird Farm. You can use breadcrumbs (sourdough if you like or keep it light with the cornmeal.
Although the photo above is a bit more "dressed" up, I really enjoy this simply seasoned with a touch of Maine sea salt and a splash of vinegar or lemon.
Bottarga is the salted and cured roe of the grey mullet, but, similar to caviar, can be made with a variety of fish. This Italian delicacy is often grated over fresh pasta and offers a umami rich flavor to whatever it is being served with. Although I have yet to make this myself, the procedure is quite similar. Review the recipe HERE.
Butter Basted in a Skillet
This is by far my favorite way to enjoy roe. A good nob of unsalted butter melts away and browns nicely to produce a deep, nutty flavor. The roe get slightly crisp on the outside but remain soft and mostly raw inside. I'll finish the dish with some sprigs of fresh herbs that infuse into the fish in the final moments of cooking.
I've never prepared nor tasted this dish but its simplicity sounds quite appealing. This traditional Greek dish containing carp or cod roe blended with a starch like bread or potatoes and seasoned with spices, onion, lemon and olive oil. The pinkish spread can be consumed on sourdough toast or fresh, seasonal vegetables. For a more detailed recipe, check out this one over at Nourished Kitchen.