Shad Roe, Two Ways

March 3, 2008

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Earlier this spring, I decided this year was the year.  The year I was at least going to try it.  I’m normally a pretty adventurous eater, generally willing to try new things.  But I had put off trying shad roe for for a couple of years now and it had become one of my darkest waitressing secrets.  “Oh, the shad roe?”  I’d say brightly.  “It’s excellent here.”  Or so I’d heard.  Then I would wait for the inevitable question, and cringing, try to explain that shad roe were two paired lobes of egg sac of the shad without using the words “egg sac,” which usually make guests wrinkle their noses and shake their heads.  Shad roe eaters are a club of their own and, in my waitressing experience at least, if you don’t already know what it is, chances are you don’t want to.

But, other than the egg sac concept, I loved the idea of shad roe.  It’s intensely seasonal, a harbringer of spring, and local to boot.  Shad run up the East Coast every spring to spawn in fresh water and fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River celebrate their coming with shad bakes and festivals.  The fish itself is flavorful, but quite bony, making it a challenging eat.  The roe itself has been described as rich and “tasting of the sea,” a bit briny. 

shad-roe-raw-closeup-640x425.jpg 

Still slightly apprehensive, I did not want to try the roe at work, scarfing it down as I tried to finish my sidework at the end of the night.  I decided this should be an occasion of sorts and so I talked Chef into letting me bring my shad home to cook myself.  I wrapped them up and carefully brought them home.  At which point R., my (kitchen professional) boyfriend, mentioned that they could be difficult to saute properly, being liable to burst at high temperatures, and casting a bit of doubt on the whole enterprise.   So I began my research, finding that the generally accepted solution to this bursting problem is a light poaching followed by pan searing for color.  I had settled on this method when I came across a recipe from Jasper White’s Cooking from New England via The Spiral Staircase.  Mr. White seemed to have put quite a bit of thought into the preparation of shad roe and anyone who wants to poach food in butter has my heart from the get go.  All this, paired with his cautionary words on popping fat, and I was sold.

 “Shad roe does not take well to any type of intense heat.  It requires gentle cooking.  If you wish to saute shad roe, you must gently poach it first.  It is too delicate to saute from the raw state.  You can . . . then season and dust the roe with flour before slowly browning it in butter or bacon fat.  Be careful of popping, which can throw hot fat far enough to burn the cook.  Over the years, I have tried just about every known method for cooking shad roe.  Still not completely happy, I invented my own method, which pays heed to the most important elements in cooking shad roe: slow cooking and basting.  The trick is to find a saute pan that is just barely big enough to hold the roe.  For one pair weighing about six ounces a six-inch pan with one-inch sides is perfect; for two pairs of that size, a nine-inch pan is about right.  The roe is roasted slowly in this pan with enough sweet butter to almost cover the lobes.  This eliminates basting, and since the dish is started from the cold state and uses a very gentle cooking, it also eliminates poaching.  When the roe is perfectly cooked, it is transferred to a warm plate to rest for just a moment, while you prepare a brown butter from the butter in the pan…  Serve one piece of lobe as an appetizer or two as a main course.  I think the richness of this dish, however, makes it more appropriate as a starter.”

So the cooking method decided, I was torn between a lemon caper butter that the restaurant relies on or a more traditional approach, one that would let me use some of my home-cured bacon.  I dithered for a while before deciding that it was a sign that shad roe come paired with two lobes and I was meant to try both.  The lemon caper butter approach would use up the butter I had needed to poach the roe and would pair with some grilled bread.  I put R. and his professional background in charge of this while I worked out what to do with the bacon.  Bacon, grits, and roe seemed to be a theme in my readings.  Going along those lines, I would fry up some bacon, build a pan sauce with brandy and serve this roe variation with some of my smoked tomato grits, which are good enough to deserve a post of their own. 

Honestly, after all this build up, the roe seemed almost anticlimactic.  It was good, with a mild flavor and a texture not unlike the grits that I paired them with.  The acidic counterpoint of the lemon and capers paired beautifully with the roe and anything with bacon is yummy in my book.  I would eat roe again, but probably not seek it out, and that’s okay, because now I know what all the fuss is about.   You can send me my shad roe club membership card, because now I’ve tried it. 

Shad Roe, Slowly Roasted in Butter

    adapted from Jasper White’s Cooking from New England

preheat oven to 350 degrees.   

  • 1 pair shad roe lobes, about 6 oz
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

wash shad roe and gently pat dry.  season with salt and pepper.

  • 6-8 tablespoons unsalted butter

place a 6-inch saute pan on medium low heat and melt 6 tablespoons of the butter.  slip the shad roe into the pan, making sure that the melted butter is covering the lobes.  if not, add a bit more.  place the pan into the preheated oven.  check the thickest part of the roe after 12 minutes for firmness.  if still soft, cook a bit longer.  remove to a warm plate. 

Lemon Caper Pan Sauce and Grilled Bread

lemon-butter-triple-swirl.jpg

pour off part of the melted butter from the pan and reserve to brush grilled bread, leaving behind 3-4 tablespoons.  place over medium heat to brown the butter.  toss in

  • 1 tablespoon salt-cured capers, soaked and dried
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

swirl to incorporate.

  • 2 slices of baguette, cut on the bias, toasted or grilled, brushed with any melted butter left

Brandied Bacon Pan Sauce

shad-roe-bacon-final-1-640x425.jpg

  • 2 slices of thick-cut bacon  

fry up bacon until crisp.  remove from pan and remove pan from heat.  add

  • 1/3 cup brandy or bourbon

swirl and light with a long kitchen match.  season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.  if I tried this again, I would probably add a pinch of flour to the bacon grease to make a thin roux or some heavy cream after the brandy to make a more finished sauce. 

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23 Responses to “Shad Roe, Two Ways”

  1. Peter Says:

    This is a fantastic post…ya got me curious to try this out ( or from a similar fish).

    I do believe you can also steam this.

  2. michelle Says:

    i really enjoyed this post! it almost made me want to eat shad roe… almost.

    i’m totally jealous of your home-made bacon. i scoured the city for some pork belly last week, and couldnt’ find anyway (okay, it was really ay fault because i didn’t want to go to chinatown, but so what?).

  3. Cindy Says:

    Hey,
    I just made something out of cod roe,
    Maybe I should try out your recipe too,
    It looks great!

  4. jessica Says:

    way to be brave cousin. i’m going to claim living vicariously through you and avoid the roe all together.

    keep up the posting i’m loving them.

    jess

  5. Ann Says:

    Wow! What an interesting recipe… and your photo is luscious!

  6. Heather Says:

    Yikes, I’ve never seen such a thing! I bet it’s really rich. I ate spicy, pickled cod roe in Tokyo that was really intense, but this looks a lot milder.

  7. hshaw Says:

    Good for you! I adore shad roe, but alas, will not get any in California until I begin catching them myself in late May. I typically flour them, cook them in bacon fat and serve with lemon and chervil. Dee-lish!

    You can also cure shad roe by packing it in salt. I made my own shad bottarga last summer and just used it on a Sicilian pasta dish with fresh anchovies.

    …and of course shad is a fantastic fish smoked over hickory or almond.

  8. charcuterista Says:

    michelle: I think you can get pork belly from most places just by calling ahead and ordering it, which is what I did for my second pork belly purchase (in the works now, stay tuned…) and turned out to be really convenient, but did require planning ahead a bit. Bacon, while easier than you would guess, does take a bit of time and forethought…

    hshaw: Shad bottarga?!? There’s a connection I’ve never made; though we’ve talked about tracking down bottarga before, we’ve never done it, and certainly never considered making our own…the pasta sounds lovely!

    Heather: Having never had pickled cod roe, it does sound intense! (Way to be adventurous!) The shad roe I made was very mild and rich to be sure, very filling.

  9. Anticiplate Says:

    I am learning a bunch of new ingredients and dishes from you! How inspiring:)


  10. Wow, I read this whole post and learned so much!! I feel so much smarter about fish. I’ve never cooked with this type of fish yet, but am looking forward to it one day. Thank you very much.

  11. Darcie Says:

    Very interesting dish. However, coming from an interior state where fish eggs were more commonly known as “bait,” I’ll have to eat vicariously through you. I’ve had a few different types of caviar before and never really got into it. Which I suppose is fine considering how expensive the good stuff is. It’s good when one of your favorite meats is pork shoulder! Savin’ money but eatin’ large!


  12. Wonderful photographs and great post. I don’t eat roe, and I still enjoyed reading it.

  13. Peter Says:

    Ditto on the salt curing; it will firm them up so you can give them a good sear, and intensify the flavor. I like the bottarga idea, too.


  14. The smoked tomato grits seriously have me drooling! I’m not a huge roe fan myself but my weird kid (11 y.o.) is! She orders it all the time. I think they might have switched kids on me. ;-)

  15. missginsu Says:

    Wow! You take on really ambitious projects. DIY bacon? Shad roe? Brave woman. Bully for you!

  16. katy Says:

    it might burst?!? that is scary, but actually kind of cool.


  17. In all of my years of cooking I’ve never tackled the shad’s roe. You’ve absolutely inspired me to now do so.

    The salt-curing suggestion also sounds pretty interesting as I adore bottarga.


  18. Thank you so much for introducing me to something completely new. I really appreciate blog posts like this! I have to be honest, cooking roe never seemed like something to do since we eat it raw so often. So the texture and taste really changed from raw roe, huh? I would imagine roe purists would think cooking it ruins the taste? This is so interesting!!

    I totally want to try it, but I’m not sure if this is something that’s easy to find in stores. I live in NYC – think I’d be able to find it?

    amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

  19. Kari Valley Says:

    I am so excited to actually learn what shad roe really is. Being on the West Coast I had never heard of it before until I started singin “Let’s Do It” by Cole Porter for my cabaret act. I investigated the term due to the lyrics “…even shad do it, Waiter bring me shad roe….” Thanks for such a detailed and colorful description and recipe it makes the song so much more relevant!

  20. stan zimmer Says:

    i,ve been catching and cooking shad and it,s roe for almost 50 years, tried many varied receipes, but best simply sauteed/butter and served w/lemon butter on good toasts. i owned a restaurant for years also and served shad roe, since it,s so perishible i found it’s availability and when i needed it a problem–solution, found you could IQF the roe wrap in plastic wrap, put in room temp water when an order comes up, then follow same sautee procedure and 5-7 minutes in hot oven to finish off. never kept frozen roe long term, but worked well for a month or two. by the way, the shad itself works well in fish cakes w/thai sweet chili sauce..

    chow
    stan

  21. Rob Landes Says:

    What fun to read about your shad roe experience. Would you share your tomato grits recipe? Sounds really good.
    Bon appetit!
    Rob

  22. Kier Says:

    I actually found your website after seeing it being sold off of FreshDirect.com
    I had to find a way to cook it before I decided to buy it.

    Check it out!


  23. [...] roe two ways checkout the second recipe and informative website!! main, roe, seafood, shad Leave a comment [...]


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