Salmon roe is one of my favorite foods (and my husband and son share my love of those beautiful translucent little orange balls of briny goodness). And every time I post to Nourished Kitchen’s facebook page, extolling the many virtues of roe (and oh, there are many), I receive two reactions: disgust and unadulterated adoration. Of course, most of the folks disgusted by the idea of eating roe have yet to actually try it which I always find peculiar. How can you adopt such a strong and unyielding position without even minute experience?
This year, we decided to spend New Years with friends at their rough-and-tumble cabin about a mile outside of town. We packed up our warm clothes and five pounds of salmon roe in their skeins to smoke for the holiday. We began first by rubbing the skeins with salt and letting them sit for a bit: this helps the skeins to contract a bit and expel some of their liquid. When the smoker was ready, we brushed off the excess salt and transferred the skeins to the wire racks where they should smoke for about thirty to forty-five minutes. At first, the salted and smoked salmon roe is overpowering; that is, you couldn’t make a meal of it on its own, but roe isn’t typically meant to be a meal on its own so much as it is a complement to other dishes, and it complements them well. It’s a seasoning, really.
So we served it the next morning, on New Year’s day, over fried eggs and continued eating it at nearly every meal because it is such a remarkably beautiful food, and one that your body intelligently craves after the first taste. What we knew we couldn’t consume within the week we set into a dehydrator and dried – to be crumbled over winter squash or flash-fried kale as you might do with something like bottarga (another one of my culinary loves).
Why Salmon Roe is Good for You
I re-read Nutrition & Physical Degeneration recently. And as I thumbed through those rather dog-eared pages, cataloging exactly what the different peoples ate, it struck me that fish eggs played a critical role in the diets of the majority of peoples – even inland tribes with no easy access to the sea. Indeed, the peoples of the outer Hebrides, Alaskan natives, Native Americans of the northwest, the Melanesians, Polynesians, select African tribes, the people of the Torres strait and isolated Peruvians were all described as holding a sacred place for roe. Even those without easy access to the sea, like Peruvians living high in the Andes, went to great lengths to acquire dried roe which they reserved primarily for women (knowing that maternal intake of vitamin-rich foods helped to build the health of the next generation) and children.
Roe is a potent food, and one of the top foods for fertility along with other foods rich in both vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids like cod liver oil, wild-caught fish or shellfish. A single ounce of roe, about one heaping tablespoon, contains 1086 mg omega-3 fatty acids – primarily in the forms of DHA and EPA. And if you think your ground flax and chia supply you enough, think again: the human body is notoriously inefficient at converting plant-based omega-3 fatty acids into useable forms of DHA and EPA. If you want the benefits, roe and wild-caught fish are your best choice. Beyond EPA and DHA, that single ounce of roe is also particularly rich in vitamins A, C, D, B6, B12, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. It is a superfood in a way that makes trendy seeds and obscure Amazonian berries pale by comparison.
How to Serve Salmon Roe
To help boost fertility, my nutritionist recommends consuming roe several times a week. And it’s such a wonderful food, that I’ve no reluctance in complying. My favorite way to serve this salted and smoked roe is over eggs for breakfast where its briny and smoky flavor complements the creamy yolk beautifully. Good friends of mine, with whom we smoked this batch of roe, serve it over whole-grain sourdough crostini and sliced brie. The milder ikura (get it here) is nice in homemade sushi or even eaten by the spoonful. Regardless, salmon roe pairs well with eggs, cultured cream, dill and lemon or with seaweeds, fish and other seafoods. You can also use salted and smoked salmon roe in place of tarama in the classic Greek dip taramasalata.
Where to Find Salmon Roe
Finding fresh roe in their skeins to prepare this salted and smoked salmon roe recipe is challenging, at best. It seems few people have the knowledge or interest in eating roe or preparing their own caviar (aside from you, me and Mommypotamus) so much of the roe fishermen find ends up used as bait or thrown overboard. A sad, sad thing, no? What this means for you, though, is that unless you have an in with a salmon fisherman, chances are you won’t be able to find fresh roe in their skeins. Instead, you can get ikura or wild-caught salmon roe online. I buy it from these folks since they offer the best price I’ve seen, that is, when I’m not making my own.
- ¼ cup unrefined sea salt
- 3 lbs wild-caught salmon roe in their skeins
- Rinse the skeins of roe in a gentle stream of filtered water (you can find a good filter here). Pat them dry and dredge them lightly in unrefined sea salt. Set them in a pan to cure for about twenty to thirty minutes while you prepare the wood for smoking.
- Once the smoker is preheated, drain off any excess liquid from the skeins of roe and brush off any residual salt. Transfer the skeins to the smoker. Smoke for thirty to forty-five minutes. Remove from smoker and refrigerate. Serve this smoked roe as a seasoning or accompaniment to eggs, greens or other foods. If the texture of the skein’s membrane doesn’t suit you, you may slit the skein and scoop out the roe with a spoon.