Roe, roe, roe we gloat

Winter roe is never found on the menus of local restaurants. Never is a word to be treated with great respect and caution, and so it is a rare pleasure to use it. Roe probably does not appear on too many dinner tables, either, since it is also not generally found at the local market. In fact, I think I can say with confidence it is never found there.

You need a fisherman to get roe this time of year. Preferably, a fisherman who can also clean the roe sack out intact, as a punctured roe is a mess to cook. But a mess of roe is a wonderful thing. This is confusing, but blame our dynamic English language. The phrase “a mess of “ is something I learned from my mother-in-law, and thought it was one of her colorful Maineisms, like sprill ( fir needles) and oughts (compost), but a mess of goes as far back as the Old French, mes, a portion of food, and perhaps is even older. It then shifted from a large portion of smaller things, to an untidy pile of things, to a mess.

Raw yellow perch roe

Roe from certain fish is also called caviar, but that is not the kind of egg sac that comes from below the ice on our Maine ponds and lakes. Cod roe is commonplace in Iceland, served with a dab of mayonnaise on crackers. The roe from the American Shad is sought after, connoisseurs have been known to pay exorbitant prices to have it flown to their kitchens. I grew up eating shad as one of our rites of spring. The eating came after fishing with my father on the Connecticut River, but more often than not the shad and shad roes we ate came from the nearby Shad Shack, a seasonal booth selling fresh deboned shad and roe. I still seek shad roe out when the Amelanchier, also called the shad bush, serviceberry, shad blow and a few other names, displays its soft white blossoms. But that is a while a way.

I prefer not to compare shad roe to two of our winter roes, from white perch and yellow perch. Perch roes are delicious now. Shad roe will be delicious then. I also will not debate the issue of invasive species. I wish the yellow perch were not in the ponds we found them in, but will not turn down their roe for political reasons.

White perch roe is about the size of my pinky finger, pale whitish grey, and very finely grained. The sac covering is very delicate, and needs to be handled with care. A tiny pinprick or two, a gentle rinse, and slide the roes ( you will need quite a few) into a cast iron pan with a shimmer of olive oil. After the heat firms them, add white wine, turn gently and very softly let them cook. Serve just like that or cool them, mince some garlic, add yogurt or mayonnaise and a hint of oyster sauce. Spread on toast.

Yellow perch are a bit sturdier, quite a bit thicker, as thick as a sausage. They are a lovely golden color, and can be cooked just like the white perch. They have many more eggs in the case, and are closer to the shad’s roe. Instead of olive oil, use ghee or butter. Three or four can make a meal, with a salad.

Yellow perch roe, not piglets

Many fisherman toss out the roe, or feed the entire yellow perch to the eagles that generally hang out where ice fisherman fish. They are looked at as trash food, just as mussels were not so many years ago. When I moved to Maine, mussels were not sold in the seafood market in Bar Harbor, and were not on the menu at any restaurant. I am not predicting yellow and white perch will become restaurant fare as they are not so easy to get, nor are they as plentiful as mussels, but perhaps fisherman will bring them home to enjoy with the rest of their catch.

Even if they don’t I will continue eat them, each bite a succulent, rich, o mi gosh moment. I will also continue to thank my fisherman who brings them, beautifully cleaned and glistening, to our kitchen. “Aren’t they complicated to clean?“ I ask.

“Slit the belly, give a push with your finger, and out they pop,” was the reply.

There are not many things about Maine winter’s that are that easy.


A fine mess of white perch

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4 comments on “Roe, roe, roe we gloat

  1. Roe- yes! In the Mid-Atlantic shad roe should be the nice Georgetown fish store now. I’ll check. Here the shad roe is in before the shad bush blooms, earlier by a few weeks. Last year we also cooked yellow perch roe and I can report that it is amazing cooked in the pouch with a strip of bacon on top. I know, sounds sacriligous, but it’s good. To me, roe is a sign of spring and our wedding anniversary. Nice piece and excellent photos!

  2. Amazing what treats you are able to harvest at that little piece of heaven we are so lucky to have. Many a fish has been layed out on that rock. Great story.

  3. Thanks for reading. We had perch last night in a vodka sauce with capers and olives. Sounds too strong for the fish, but it was fabulous.

    I have a bag of clean towels and sheets we need to get back to camp, in case you had missed them.

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