Brined Salmon Roe
Wild salmon are considered by many to be the stars of Pacific Northwest cuisine. Smoked, grilled, or baked on cedar planks, the flavor of fresh wild salmon steaks and fillets is distinctive and adds a note of special elegance to any meal.
Salmon is even nutritionally suited to people of the Northwest. What’s a vitamin in which most of us are deficient? Vitamin D, the sun vitamin. What vitamin does salmon have in abundance? Vitamin D. How convenient!
A few days ago a friend of mine called. She had just purchased a reefnet-caught coho salmon (sometimes also referred to as silver salmon). When her husband was cleaning the fish, he found egg sacs inside. She wondered if I would be interested in them.
I was definitely interested! Salmon eggs (salmon roe) are a delicacy. They are usually rather salty for my taste, but I was eager to try preparing them myself to see if I could find a good flavor balance.
This particular fish had been a small one, and coho eggs are smaller than those from other salmon. The eggs were about half the size of what I was used to eating. Removing them from the outer egg sac turned out to be rather difficult, but I just took my time knowing the result would be worth it.
Some prefer to leave the eggs in the roe sac. The Japanese have two common styles of preparing salmon roe, for example. Sujiko is roe salted while still in the sac. The color is red to dark red. Ikura is removed from the membrane before salting, and the color is lighter and more orange. I personally like the Ikura style better, mostly because of its texture. The Sujiko membranes have a slippery texture that’s not my favorite. I like the pop of the individual Ikura-style eggs.
Today’s recipe below describes a simple method of brining salmon roe to prepare it. Because the flavor of the roe is fairly intense, it’s often used as a condiment or spread on mild-flavored foods such as grains or crostini. It’s also used sparingly as an ingredient in dishes such as sushi, soups or salads. I served these particular eggs on top of mildly flavored deviled eggs, converting them instantly from ordinary to exotic.
Nutritionally, salmon roe has more Omega-3 fatty acids (think “brain food”) and other anti-oxidants than just about any other food, 3.5 times as much as the flesh of the salmon itself. It also has high levels of vitamins C, D and E, thiamine, folate, vitamin B12 and selenium (another common nutritional deficiency). What a local food treasure!
- 1 cup salmon eggs (from reefnet-caught wild coho salmon, Lummi Island)
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup sea salt
- First, gently remove the eggs from the outer sac membrane. Agitating them in warm water can help soften the membrane so you can loosen the eggs without crushing them. Do this as quickly as possible, because you don't want the eggs to be exposed to heat for very long.
- There are more membranes inside the outer sac, and those should be removed, too. After you remove the eggs from the hot water, rinse them gently in cold water and then spread them on a flat surface, such as a cookie sheet, to drain. You can use a clean, lint-free towel under them if you like, but avoid paper towels. They can stick to the eggs. As you spread the roe out to drain a little, pick out any inner membrane pieces you find.
- While the eggs drain, mix the brine solution. Stir the salt into the cold water until it dissolves.
- Place the eggs into the brine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a couple of hours.
- Rinse the eggs gently and briefly in a fine sieve under cold running water. Spread to drain for a couple of minutes, and again pull out any remaining membrane pieces. The membranes will have turned white in the brine, so will be easier to spot.
- Put the finished roe into some kind of airtight container (small jar or freezer bag, for example), keep refrigerated, and use within 5-7 days.