Shad Roe with Lemon Butter and Capers
Around our house it's not the absence of a groundhog's shadow that heralds spring, but rather the appearance of a tattered little handmade sign in the window of our favorite fish market down on the docks. "Shad Roe" is all it says, but to me the message is: "The end of winter is here!"
Shad roe is the efficiently descriptive name for delicate clusters of fish eggs harvested from shad (Alosa Sapidissima) when the laden females make their spring journey up the rivers of the East Coast to their spawning grounds. The run starts, usually in March, in Southern waters and progresses with warmer weather up the coast, arriving in Connecticut in mid-May. So when March blows in, shad roe addicts anxiously start checking fish market windows for that little sign.
(The female shad aren't taken just for their eggs, by the way. Shad meat has its devotées – there are Shad Festivals from the Chesapeake Bay to the Connecticut Valley every year, at which filet of shad is consumed with great enthusiasm – but the meat is usually only available commercially in the areas local to the catch. The roe, with more fans, travels farther.)
Shad roe comes from the fish market as a pair of tightly packed lobes, each secured with a filmy membrane which happily keeps the cluster intact during the cooking process. Averaging about four ounces apiece, each lobe contains thousands of eggs the size of coarse sand grains. Unlike caviar, which is pickled in brine, shad roe comes to the kitchen fresh. When cooked, the shad roe binds together in a delicate mass, which is more like a subly-flavored fish sausage than anything else: dense in texture, light to the tooth, and with none of the crunchiness of caviar or sushi bar flying fish roe.
As a quick Google search for "shad roe recipe" will demonstrate, there are a multitude of strongly-held opinions as to how to prepare shad roe. I don't remember where I got this recipe but I've been using it for a number of years and it's very reliable. The roe doesn't get overcooked or dry and the subtle flavor isn't overwhelmed by other ingredients.
In terms of a healthy diet, for people who need to control dietary cholesterol this treat should be considered an occasional indulgence, due to the relatively high cholesterol content – so it's a good thing for me it's only available a few months of the year. That said, this dish is relatively low in calories and nearly carbohydrate-free so fits well in a weight-control or glucose-control diet plan.
Shad Roe with Lemon Butter and Capers
- 1 pair shad roe lobes, about 8 ounces total
- 1/2 small tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped fine
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon salt-cured capers, soaked, rinsed, pressed dry
Preheat the oven to 350º.
1. Slowly melt the butter in a 6" sauté pan or similarly-sized vessel. Stir in the garlic and tomato and remove from heat.
2. Wash the roe lobes and, with a small sharp knife, remove the tissue connecting the lobes at one end. Separate the lobes, being careful to keep the enclosing membranes more or less intact.
3. Place the roe lobes in the pan with the melted butter. Spoon some of the butter over the exposed top surface of the lobes and scatter on a half-teaspoon coarse salt.
4. Place the pan in the preheated 350º oven and roast 10 to 12 minutes, until the lobes feel firm to the touch but still have some give, like a ripe avocado.
5. When done, remove from the oven and lift the roe from the butter with a slotted spoon and allow to drain a few seconds. Pour the butter from the pan through a sieve. Reserve the strained solids and set the drained butter aside for another use.
To serve, spread the tomato/garlic solids strained from the cooking pan on the plate, then place the shad roe – whole or cut in pieces, as desired – on the plate. Pour the lemon juice over the roe and scatter on the capers. Serve immediately, with peppermill handy.