Yesterday I made shad roe, which I'd never before eaten or prepared. Trying to figure out how to deal with the thing -- which looked like a bloody, red tongue -- I checked my old standby but was surprised that Larousse Gastronomique was silent on the subject (the "shad" entry only focused on the flesh; the "roe" entry covered other kinds of roe but not shad); I guess this is because shad roe is an American thing, really. Unsurprisingly, Jasper White came through with a terrific recipe. I can't tell you how much I love Jasper White. There's no co-author listed on his cookbooks, and the prose is really beautiful. This man can seriously write. I can't think of another chef who writes this well.
I was happy that the last time I went to Dean and Deluca I'd bought some of the Kenyon Mill white cornmeal. It's stone ground and makes a fabulous johnnycake. The shad roe is available now from Fresh Direct. This is really an easy recipe, about twenty minutes start to finish.
We drank hard cider with this, which was a delicious combo. I was totally surprised by the taste of the shad roe. It was so filling and rich -- sort of like liver -- but with the taste of the sea.
From Jasper White's Cooking from New England, a book that makes me nostalgic for a past that I did not have:
SHAD AND SHAD ROE
"When the shadbush is in bloom and the roe is fresh, the swamp Yankees like to fix it with a plate of johnnycakes." So says Tim the Miller of Gray's Mill in Adamsville, Rhode Island, and he is right. The shad has made a considerable comeback, not only in numbers but also in acceptance and popularity. This bony member of the herring family is an ocean fish that like salmon spawns in the small estuaries of the rivers it enters each spring. In the Connecticut shad cookout, an old New England tradition, a firebox with applewood is used to slow-cook the shad and its roe, imbuing them with a fine, smoky flavor.
Although fillet of shad is quite good when properly boned (almost impossible to find) and prepared, I will concentrate on shad roe, which is one of North America's truly great delicacies. Shad roe is usually sold in sets or pairs that already have the outer membrane removed. If you catch your own shad, remove this outer membrane carefully, so as not to damage the thin inner membrane that protects the delicate eggs. Always handle the roe sacs with the utmost care. Trim off the excess membrane that holds the pair together and also remove any blood clots or veins. Wash the roe very gently. When purchasing shad roe, look for lobes that are in perfect condition, with no torn membrane or other damage. The color of the roe will vary from yellowish red to deep red. Color is not a quality factor, unless the roe is extremely over- or under-ripened, and you will rarely see that at market. The key factor is odor -- there should be none -- which is a sign of aging. As with all fish and fish eggs, the fresher the better.
Shad roe does not take well to any type of intense heat. It requires gentle cooking. If you wish to saute shad roe, you must gently poach it first. It is too delicate to saute from the raw state. You can . . . then season and dust the roe with flour before slowly browning it in butter or bacon fat. Be careful of popping, which can throw hot fat far enough to burn the cook.
Shad Roe Slowly Roasted in Butter
Over the years, I have tried just about every known method for cooking shad roe. Still not completely happy, I invented my own method, which pays heed to the most important elements in cooking shad roe: slow cooking and basting. The trick is to find a saute pan that is just barely big enough to hold the roe. For one pair weighing about six ounces a six-inch pan with one-inch sides is perfect; for two pairs of that size, a nine-inch pan is about right. The roe is roasted slowly in this pan with enough sweet butter to almost cover the lobes. This eliminates basting, and since the dish is started from the cold state and uses a very gentle cooking, it also eliminates poaching. When the roe is perfectly cooked, it is transferred to a warm plate to rest for just a moment, while you prepare a brown butter from the butter in the pan. I like a bit of chopped bacon, anchovies and capers, but if you wish to enjoy the lovely nutty flavor of shad roe unadulterated, simply omit these ingredients. Serve one piece of lobe as an appetizer or two as a main course. I think the richness of this dish, however, makes it more appropriate as a starter.
Serves four as an appetizer or two as an entree
(NOTE: I halved this and thought it was perfect as a main dish for two. You can't really halve the butter, though, because you need it to cover the roe. Most of it gets thrown out anyway.)
2 pairs shad roe, about 6 oz each
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6-8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 anchovies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped cooked bacon or ham
juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 slices of baguette, cut on the bias, toasted or grilled, or 8 johnnycakes (recipe here)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim and clean the shad roe as described above. Wash gently and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper
2. Place a 9-inch saute pan on low to medium heat and melt 6 tablespoons of the butter. Place the shad roe in the pan; if the butter is not nearly covering the lobes, add a little more.
3. Place the pan in the preheated oven. The cooking should take about 15 minutes, but you should check in 10 or 12 minutes to be on the safe side. Squeeze the roe in the thickest part to feel for firmness. If it is still soft, cook a little longer.
4. When the roe is done, place on warm plates. Pour off about half the butter (NOTE: if you are halving recipe, you will need to pour off about three-quarters of the butter) and place the pan back on the burner. On medium heat, cook the butter until it begins to brown and develop a nutty aroma. Watch out for the popping of a few eggs that may have fallen into the butter. When the butter is well browned, quickly add the chopped capers, parsley, anchovies, bacon or ham and lemon juice. Spoon the foamy butter over the roe. Garnish with toast or johnnycakes and serve immediately.