Sometimes the ugliest item at the market can turn out to be a delicious discovery.
By Jessica Dang
“How can I put this… It looks like something a demon would eat,” I tweeted, in response to a Twitter friend asking me what shad roe looked like. There it was, in its full, bloody glory, on my kitchen counter: lumpy, slippery, and covered in a delicate web of veins. It even had the faintest metallic smell of blood. You’d almost expect it to pulsate and crawl around. Was there any other way to put it? I tweeted her a picture of it as proof.
Believe it or not, this wretched-looking thing is a seasonal delicacy that’s sought from shad swimming up the Delaware River to spawn during the very first weeks of spring. The sign on the display at The Lobster Place, where I purchased mine, said: “The foie gras of fish – a delicate texture and full flavor.” It was being sold for $13.95 per piece. When I got to the register, the fishmonger who rang me up gave my pick a nod of approval. He said that the shipment had just come in–and that the shad roe were wild and from Virginia.
This wasn’t my first time having shad roe. I’ve had a fascination with it for years, but was initially too shy to buy it. To be honest, I was afraid of being judged in the cash register lines when there’s way too much time to peer into fellow shoppers’ baskets and weave their items into some sort of conclusive life portrait. I thought mine would go either one of two ways: (1) “Oh, I feel awfully sorry for whoever’s coming over to her apartment for dinner,” or (2) “Ohhh… She probably lives alone.” Thankfully, I overcame this silliness and became a bold shad roe fanatic, now confidently pointing out which sacs of roe I want without a care. Apparently, some people go crazy for this stuff and I may just be one of them.
There are many different ways to cook shad roe. Despite how it looks, the flavor is savory and briny, but only subtly so, and there’s no lingering aftertaste, as what you would expect from something like, say, liver. Shad roe is known to take on the flavors with which its cooked, so the smokiness of bacon is a traditional pairing. The classic style of preparation varies from a gentle poach before roasting in the oven on low heat, broiling, or dredging it in flour and then pan-frying in bacon fat with capers. It’s typically served with toast points or mashed potatoes. Scraping the roe into beaten eggs and scrambling the mixture is another popular method.
Personally, I simply fry shad roe in a cast iron pan with a bit of butter and lots of garlic, and top it off with a lemon parsley sauce. I like mine nicely browned and crisped at the edges, but it must be handled carefully as the membrane is prone to split open–you wouldn’t want fish eggs splattering all over your kitchen. Ideally, it should be firm, but creamy, and even a light pink, in the center. There’s something really charming and lovely about this dish, though, it’s something to be experienced rather than seen. When I tweeted my friend with a picture of the finished dish, she replied: “This delicious looking picture has me confused on shad roe now.”
- One large set of shad roe (two lobes)
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Olive oil
- 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
- A handful of chopped curly parsley
- Maldon sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ lemon
- Carefully separate the lobes of the shad roe and season it with Maldon sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper on both sides. Set aside.
- Heat up a cast iron pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter and a swirl of olive oil. Make sure that the bottom of the pan is evenly coated.
- Add the chopped garlic and move it around in the pan with a wooden spatula until it turns golden.
- Gently lay the shad roe into the pan and let it brown for 3 to 5 minutes on each side. It should feel firm, like a medium cooked steak. Set on a plate.
- Lower the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan with the chopped parsley until it has softened and mixed well with the garlic bits in the pan. Squeeze in the lemon juice to loosen it into a sauce. Add a little bit more butter or olive oil, if necessary. Taste and adjust the flavor.
- Spoon the sauce over the shad roe.