Offal of the Week: Fish Roe
If it's Friday, it must be Offal of the Week! Brought to you by Ryan Adams, author of the blog Nose to Tail at Home, each week we highlight a different part of the animal that you've always wanted to work with, but were afraid to ask your butcher for. This week: Fish Roe.
While we've focused more on the unusual bits from land animals, there are just oodles of overlooked aquatic creature parts to talk about too. One of the first things that comes to mind for me is roe, or more literally, fish eggs. Mind you I'm not waxing poetic about caviar, which has been salted and processed, or the stuff you'll find if you waltz into a sushi joint. I'm talking about the fresh sacks of eggs that are nestled inside female fish and the milt or soft roe which is the male "organ" that contain their sperm. These parts of the fish are prized around the world, and for a good reason: when prepared correctly they are delicious.
Roe's global fan club
Perhaps the most well known roe dish in Europe is Botargo, which is known by a multitude of names across the continent — supposedly Alexander the Great taught the Persians how to prepare it at some point during his conquering. It's made by salt-curing the roe of a large fish — think tuna, grey mullet, or on rare occasions swordfish — and leaving it for a few weeks to firm up. The hardened eggs are encased in beeswax to preserve it. It's served by peeling back the wax encasement and then grating or thinly slicing the pungent, solidified matter into soups, pastas, and other dishes.
On the uncured front, roe is used just as commonly. In Denmark, lumpfish roe shows up in quite a few traditional dishes, where it's married to mildly flavored counterparts like hen eggs and shrimp. In the UK, milt — properly known as a fish's sperm sacs, in this case usually cod or herring — is quite common, they can be found in supermarkets pre-battered and ready for deep frying. Unsurprisingly, Asian countries are massive roe eaters from every species of fish, and they sometimes approach preparing it the same ways European countries do: frying, grilling, and curing. But other times they utilize roe in unique forms such as sushi, pickling, or fermenting. Japan and Korea are huge consumers of sea urchin roe (or uni), and it shows up as well in Chilen ceviches. I'm personally a big fan of sea urchin roe in any dish, its one-of-a-kind flavor holds a special place in my heart.
Where to get it
Botargo can be found readily at most Italian groceries, or barring that it's quite easy to find online. The uncured roes can be more of a challenge: your best local fishmonger is a good bet, though you shouldn't expect them to have it on hand unless they carry a wide variety of whole fish, in which case they'll ideally have been set aside during in-house butchering. It's very likely that you'll need to order ahead. Prices range depending on the species of eggs you buy, but we're not talking caviar prices — you won't be breaking the bank unless you're buying multiple pounds sea urchin roe (and even then, check Japanese groceries for surprisingly good deals). The roe sacks should be slightly moist but not overly wet and firm to the touch but still pliable.
What to do with it
Universally, the best roe is the freshest, so once you have the egg or sperm sacs in your possession, seriously consider working with it the same day (though it will last two or three days in your refrigerator). Freezing is right out, as the eggs are too delicate to withstand the punishment of low temperatures. Taste and texture will vary wildly depending on your preperation methods, but expect a strong fishy flavor regardless of your efforts.
And now it's time for you to join the rest of the world and embrace roe! Here are a few recipes that will start you on your way:
Pan-Fried Shad Roe
Salmon Mousse with Salmon Roe and Crudites
Indonesian Fish Roe Curry
The classic Italian spaghetti with tuna botargo