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The Beauty of Shad Roe

The Beauty of Shad Roe

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.”

See Also


Pan-fried shad roe


5.0 from 5 reviews
Pan-Fried Shad Roe with Lemon Parsley Sauce
This fairly straightforward way of cooking shad roe gives it a garlicky, lemony, buttery flavor.
Recipe Type: Main
Serves: 1 or 2
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add the chopped garlic and move it around in the pan with a wooden spatula until it turns golden.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Spoon the sauce over the shad roe.
It can be served with toast points or mashed potatoes. Feel free to add fried capers to the sauce or crispy bacon on the side.

View Comments (34)
  • Really interesting stuff. I tried something similar in the south of France, bought directly from the fisherman at his boat. The French friend I was with picked it out – I never would have thought to try it, but glad we did!

  • OMG, cannot wait much longer for it to arrive in New England. Being originally from way south Jersey…oh, boy, we could not wait.

    See a lot of folks online who have nooo idea what it is. Shad roe is the caviar of the shad fish, but the eggs are pinhead sized, encased in a membrane, and each membrane (sack) contains thousands. They are usually sold in “sets” which are two kidney/liver shaped and each “set” comes from one fish (i.e. like human women have two ovaries).

    They look disgusting, BUT if you can get them super, super fresh, so very orgasmic. Simply prepare them, fried when at room temp, in HOT (not burnt) butter, just a little S&P, til crisp on each side. Don’t overcook, or undercook, just til firm like a medium rare steak. Consume right away with nothing else. Most excellent with a couple of sunny side up eggs, the yolks and the roe go together like, well, nothing else. Some like to serve on choice of toast points to soak up everything, and it is pretty darn good on toast or bruschetta or whatever.

    Don’t forget Momma fish. Shad is excellent when very fresh, an oily fish like bluefish or mackeral (and quite high in healthy fish oils). BUT, it must be eaten fresh, prepared simply like its young’uns. A quick broil or flash pan. There is nothing better, and it’s only around for a week or two. Be brave and give it a try.

    If you like fish and caviar, you will be hooked. (no pun intended.)

  • Oh, yes, forgot, with bacon, for those of you who want to add that pleasure, and even lightly floured and seared/fried in bacon or duck fat…can feel my heart fluttering, but only for such a short time.

  • Thanks for this post! I just cooked it for the first time last week Chinese-style. Marinated the roe in light soy and ground black pepper, and combined it with green onion and ginger that were sauteed with a little soy and sugar. It was perfect with white rice! This technique also works great with certain fish.

  • I’m still in the experimental stage but the times I’ve cooked shad roe, I poached it in rendered duck fat in the oven. just enough fat to almost cover the roe, medium heat about 12 minutes. You could poach it in butter. this technique keeps the roe from popping and splattering and possibly burning the cook. last time was with a lemon/wine/cream sauce. So many things to try!

  • I know Shad Roe since I was a child in Burma. We have Rangoon Shad Roe and they are divine. I have been trying to find where to buy shad roe in Atlanta, GA but I can’t find any.

  • I have loved shad roe all my life – my mother always made this for me in the spring. Poached in white wine, lemon juice, butter – then browned under a broiler and served over skinny toast – simple and delicious.
    Does anyone have an experience with freezing the roe to lengthen the season?

    • There is a fish market down here in S.C. who actually freezes ones that arent sold in season to sell later. They do smell overwhemingly fishy, but lose that once prepared. I mix mine in with egg and I cant taste much difference from the fresh. Although preparing whole may be different?

  • Just made this recipe. My first time cooking shad roe! Delicious. I served with rice and a side of garlic-sautéed Swiss chard. Thanks!

  • Love your recipe, Jessica! Maintains the integrity of the Shad Roe. Also, fast and easy to prepare. Delicious with scalloped potatoes and steamed broccoli fleurettes. I’m a Baltimorean and I eagerly await Shad Roe season every year. I will be looking for more recipes from you, Jessica. I like your style!
    P.S. Anyone have a good idea for using Shad Roe leftovers? Please share. I prepared too much and hate wasting even a morsel!

  • My Dad kept all the shad roe to himself all those years. It was his own, personal ritual. Now he is gone, I can finally have my own. His “ownership” of this food intimidated me so that I could never buy it while he was alive. Now, the spring after his death, I bought the shad roe today. Maybe now I am a grown-up?

    • i am interested to buy some dry roe fish ,is any one telling me where i can find it ? what store or website ? or in line shopping ?
      thank you

  • Live on the coast of Massachusetts. I’ve been enjoying shad every season for years. I had it about a week ago and bought some more for tonight.

    I rinse mine off in cold water, dry on paper towels and dip in beaten white of an egg. I now put some Old Bay Seasoning in all purpose flour, mix the two and dip the roe until covered then shake off excess flour. I mix olive oil and a stick of butter in my old cast iron skillet to fry until crispy and golden. BTW: Keep the heat to medium I also found a spatter shield helps when the roe “pops” occasionally from the heat.

    I serve it with fresh lemon only. I’m having fiddleheads
    and new red bliss potatoes on the side

  • Just came from a fishing trip with 6 beautiful shads (caught by myself), including 2 females with roe. Nice recipes, thank you for posting, simple enough. My father used to make something similar to the garlic butter recipe using roe of another fish, don’t know the name in English, it was rather nice.
    Don’t understand though what’s so disgusting about raw fish roe or so embarrassing about buying unusual things at the market. Those who’d judge you just have no idea :).

  • My grandmother lived on the Rappahannock River, and when I was a kid we could catch shad, 2-to-a-line. My grandmother would simply fry the roe in a cast iron pan that was 100 years old, with fresh churned butter. A few minutes until the membrane was crisp, and then she’d eat it with toasted unleavened bread. Very simple, but like heaven for her.

  • I love all seafood, but never had shad roe till I was a full grown adult. WOW! There used to be a local restaurant here in SE Penna, now closed, that served shad roe with sides of French fried breaded eggplant sticks, and wild rice, ample amounts of each for a mere $6.95 in season. (a very reasonable price even back then) We loved to eat there. Or we would buy shad roe at a local seafood market in season and as my father used to say “poach it in butter”. Ever sooo good. I often poach it as my father did and serve with the eggplant and wild rice. Great combo! Easy to over cook though, you have to watch it very carefully. The second it turns grayish tan, it is done. Handle carefully, the membrane breaks very easily. One market used to sell the broken roe pieces in a container at a deeply discounted price. Great scrambled with eggs for an elegant Sunday brunch! I can’t imagine leftovers, but if you have some, try scrambling them with eggs! I’m drooling now waiting for the 2014 season to begin. Like to try Jessica Dang’s recipe.

  • Does anyone can shad roe anymore? When I was a child my grandfather bought shad roe in a can from a grocery in New Orleans. it was wonderful. Came in oval cans with two sets. Sure wish I had some.

  • For about two weeks in the Spring, Harris Teeter Grocery in Charlottesville, VA has shad roe. You have to ask; they don’t usually display it, and they only get a few.

    I wrap them in wax paper and fry in bacon fat and serve with bacon. A splash of Worcestershire and lemon adds to the flavor. Wax paper prevents them from popping and burning the cook with hot bacon fat.

    My husband has been looking for canned shad roe; used to get it at an old fashioned country grocery store.

  • Got hooked on Shad Roe a couple of years ago. As a late-comer I’m doing my best to make up time. It is Shad Roe Season NOW, y’all. Probably coming to an end, as it seems to last for a couple of weeks…no more.

    Charlotte, NC has a marvelous high-end fish store called Clean Catch Fish Market. I put myself on their “Shad Roe list” and they call me when they get it in….and boy, is it fresh! Atlanta should have a similar store….same thing for all of you near large urban settings. Harris Teeter had it on a hit or miss basis, and when I’ve tried to ask when its coming in or if they will be having it I get a blank stare and am informed the shipment comes in on Tuesday from corporate and they don’t know what they are getting until its there. I’ve even found that most of the people in their fish department don’t know what it is, and if I call and ask, I may get a “no, we don’t have it” when, in fact, they do. Boo Harris Teeter.

    I like mine best (so far) sauted in brown butter, but I think I’ll try the asian style tonight……I’ll know for sure when I get in the kitchen! Good luck, y’all!

  • Where can I purchase canned shad roe? I know it is out there I just can’t find it. Living on west coast and miss the springtime treat. thanks

  • Thank you for an easy and good receipt. I’m in SC. Shad has been a life time treat. I wrap it in bacon, dust with flour cook in an iron pan, then make a little sauce with parsley, onion , lemon juice a little chardonnay and half&half .

  • OK all you shad roe lovers!!! I know this comes too late, but remember this for next spring. I have found the PERFECT way to store shad roe, and pull it out as you get a hankering for months and months. I had to test this out first before I posted to make triple sure it works, and as I sit here nibbling on a shad roe set that tastes as good as fresh…well, have to share the secret. Super easy too!

    Prepare your fresh roe as you normally would, whether you flour and sauté or however you cook it. Also half cook some bacon slices (you can do that first and cook your sets in the bacon fat for extra yummy). OK, when the sets are cooked no more than medium, remove them from pan and wrap a half cooked piece of bacon around each casing. Set aside and let cool, then put the cooked sets in your freezer on a tray, pie pan, whatever, and allow to freeze solid.

    When the sets are frozen, put them into zip lock bags and press the air out. IF YOU HAVE A FOOD SEALER, break it out and then seal up in another bag your zip locked sets separately. Mark with date, etc., and freeze in the coldest part of your freezer.

    When you get a hankering in May, June, whenever, simply pull out one of the bags of sets, open it up, place it on a double or heavy duty piece of aluminum foil, and smear some butter on it first. LIGHTLY wrap foil around it, like a little shell, and bake at about 350-375 for appx 15-20 minutes. Squeeze on some lemon and ENJOY!!!

    MAKE SURE you bake these fully frozen, DO NOT thaw first, they will turn to mush. You will not be able to tell the difference from fresh, and I feel badly for all you shad roe lovers who are already getting the hankering only 2 months after the season is over. But have faith, try this method, and next May, you and I can pull a set out of the freezer and have a chat about how really, really good these are. Ahh, the little eggs are just bursting in my mouth as I write, enjoying each and every one!

    Keep the faith, there is always next year. Now if only I can come up with a similar method for soft shell crabs…still working on that one!

    • Wow! I have been searching for shad roe for ages. Just came across your posting. I live in central Florida but have been known to drive mega miles to buy food that I can’t get here! I know the season is short (and it depends on whether you are on the East Coast or West Coast) but where do you buy it, and when? I may have to wait till next spring, but at least I’ll have the necessary information! Thanks for any help! And I love that you can freeze it!

      Sally Hammond

  • I found this post while watching a rerun of “Chopped” on Food Network. Thanks for your interesting information!

  • I have ben searching for canned shad roe to buy. It must be canned so that it might be shipped from the USA to my home address in Europe – either to France or to England.
    Can you help me find it?

  • I grew up on shad roe fried in bacon grease with bacon on the side. Loved it then but now find it too rich. This version with parsley and garlic is perfect!. You get a second delight with the reminder of the sea that lingers on you’re palate when you’re done.

  • How do you keep shad roe?? Freeze it? In salt water? Pressure can it?? I love it and have lots in my frige…please help…

  • So I tried this being a first- timer and trying the Shad roe it was actually really good being brought up on the East Coast I ate lots of row from flounders and other fish so I like Row but never tried shad roe now I understand what all the hype is about thank you it was great

  • With bacon and garlic????? How can you discern the delicate taste of these jewels of the sea? Maybe someone will come up with a dish containing maple sirup!! The true fish and seafood cognoscenti, aficionados, are always striving to retain the natural flavor of the products. What ignorant condescendance to pretend to improve upon these delicate, undertoned delicacies. Try it as a cevice, now you know what is meant by natural taste. So much bs.

  • Oh Jacques,
    While your post has a grain of truth regarding delicate seafood, I wonder why you don’t just swallow them whole and raw as nature intended. My goodness, do you really think you can improve on Mother Nature?
    Or as you suggest, replace all those other scurrilous flavors with a big dose of lime juice. I happen to love cevice, and I may even try your idea.
    When I see the words “cognoscenti” and “aficionados” and “ignorant condescendance” in the same post, I read “insufferable food snob”
    You are hereby disinvited to any dinners at my table.

  • I am so glad to come across this article. I fished for shad at the Bonneville Dam / Washington State side. Kept the roe from the females. It is absolutely delicious after brining them first overnight and pan fried in butter/olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. I am a shad roe convert. Thank you so very much for this article. Definitely not fishy at all. Even our daughter loved it over hot rice. I think I might try make Taramasalata (Greek recipe) with some of the roe I froze.

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