15 April 2010

Shad roe

During the shad’s annual run up the James River, Richmond, Virginia residents have historically indulged in shad roe the way many of us celebrate the return of asparagus. One longtime resident told me she used to eat the roe sacs wrapped in wax paper seasoned only with a little butter. The shad population, indescribably dense in colonial times, has suffered the way most fish species have in our polluted, over-developed waterways, and smaller runs have been the norm for ages. Indeed, several people I asked in Richmond had no idea of the shad run, while one said, “I know someone who’ll know." One phone call uncovered a supplier of them and I quickly found a restaurant serving them.
 Edo’s Squid, a nice little restaurant off Broad Street in Richmond, posts its Italian-derived menu on just two sheets of paper hung on the exposed brick wall: choices today included skate wing, shad roe, quail, fried squid and several pasta dishes. The restaurant occupies the second floor of an old brick building and the lunchtime ambience was sunny and comfortable.
Shad roe are about the size of flying fish roe, perhaps a little bigger. The lobes are taken from the females and the two lobes weigh about three ounces apiece. The eggs are kept together in the sac, a thin membrane with several veins running along the bottom side of the sac. They’re usually served together as a main course or a single lobe for an appetizer.

Deep-fried bread, a lobe gently poached and sautéed, melted mozzarella cheese with a caper sauce on top, and a flourish a fresh, sweet and tart greens dancing on the other side of the plate, a green springiness to delight the shad’s return. The roe was cooked through, and I wonder if the quality of shad roe is high enough to eat raw; no one I spoke with had eaten it raw. The roe had a nutty, slightly salty taste, a pleasing texture up against the fried bread and mozzarella. The caper sauce was beautiful, and the capers themselves were the smallest I’ve seen – BB-sized, perhaps scaled to match the mass of eggs underneath my fork.

Earlier in the month I ate avgotaraho – cured and preserved roe from the grey mullet – a Greek specialty, and today I ate shad roe. I live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and I wonder if anyone eats the eggs of any of our local fish. Does anyone out there have any experience with the freshwater roe of our local fish? Are there any laws covering the harvesting of fish roe in Minnesota? Let me know if you have any experience with roe in Minnesota.

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