Left: Dolly Varden Char caviar served on avocado and rice crackers. Right: the same roe on goat cheese and garnished with dill. A not-too-sweet Riesling or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc makes for a good pairing.
While cleaning panfish such as Yellow Perch, Bluegills and Crappies after springtime fishing trips in western Pennsylvania, we’d set aside the egg sacs – a pair of plump, tightly joined yellow, beige or light orange orbs. Salted, peppered, rolled lightly in cornmeal and fried in butter, the salty creaminess was absolutely delectable. From an early age, I was a caviar man.
As my fishing skills developed, I began trying the eggs of other species. Pennsylvania’s harvesting season for bass opened well after spawning, so those eggs rarely came into play (they can be prepared the same way as bluegill eggs), but occasionally a springtime Rainbow Trout or a fall Brook Trout came with roe skeins. Frying these did not work well. They’re too watery. But the roe of American Shad was a revelation. Sautéed in butter, garlic and a splash of soy sauce, it is truly a gourmet food. And if you’re lucky enough to bring home gravid Speckled Seatrout, their roe ranks in same class as shad roe.
It wasn’t until I started catching salmon and curing their eggs into Japanese-style ikura that I figured out what to do with the eggs of trout and char. Provided you have a pair of fairly ripe skeins (Dolly Varden, abundant in the Chigniks, are perfect for this), the process is pretty straightforward. The result is a caviar that is much smaller and somewhat lighter in flavor than salmon roe, but quite tasty and attractive.
Trout Roe Caviar
- fresh roe sacs of any species of trout or char
- fine-grain sea salt
- small jar(s) with tight lid (We use canning jars.)
- colander for draining eggs. Ideally the holes will be just smaller than the eggs, allowing connective tissue to easily drain away.
- large bowl into which the colander will fit
- small bowl for finishing eggs
- nitrile gloves (You’ll be using very hot water.)
- canning funnel, if you have one
- Remove roe sacs from trout, rinse in cold water. They can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours prior to use.
- Place large bowl in sink, colander in bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water close to 125° F (50° C). 10° F (6° C) cooler or hotter is OK.
- Place roe skeins in hot water. Don’t worry if they begin to turn opaque. This is normal. Peel away connective tissue to separate eggs.The riper the eggs, the easier this is. As you do this, it can be helpful to use a small strainer to scoop away impurities, most of which will float above the eggs. You can begin placing separated eggs into the small finishing bowl. Discard eggs that are overly difficult to separate.
- Drain water from eggs remaining in colander and add these to the finishing bowl. Using cold water, thoroughly rinse clean the colander and large bowl to remove any broken eggs and connective tissue.
- With colander in large bowl, fill with cold water. Place separated eggs back in colander and gently swirl to allow any unwanted material to drift free from eggs. Again, you can scoop some of this away with a small strainer.
- Drain as much water as possible from the eggs. Place them in the finishing bowl.
- Add sea salt, a little at a time. Use a spoon or rubber spatula to gently mix eggs and salt. Taste. Repeat as necessary till the eggs are agreeably salty. This process will bring a translucent color to the roe and toughen them a little as some liquid is pulled out of the eggs.
- Let the roe rest a few minutes, then drain off the liquid that has gathered. Wipe the finishing bowl clean, return eggs and taste again.
- If the eggs taste good, they’re ready to jar. A canning funnel can make this step easier.
The cured eggs will keep for about 6 days in a refrigerator. They can be frozen for several months.