Making me hungry -- 05/06/10

Here's what happens sometimes when I read someone's meme-based entry. I think "Oh, I think I'll do this one." Then I copy the questions and get them pasted into an entry in my editor and get them set the way I want them to look and then I set about to answer the questions. And discover that I can't answer some of them. That is, I can't think of a single answer. Oh, I can think of half a dozen, but I can't settle on just one. After a bit I get frustrated enough that I just delete it and write about something else entirely... or perhaps I've used so much time that I just skip having an entry for that day. (This is not to claim that as an excuse for my many consecutive days of no entries.)

Bev's entry for today was a food meme. The first question was What is your number one comfort food. Yeah, so I could think of at least half a dozen answers to that (beginning with meatloaf with mashed potatoes) and each of those dishes deserved a full description. The second question was If you were stranded on a desert island, what five foods would you want to have with you in order to survive on. I hate desert island questions (Yes, just as much as those burning building questions) and I generally try to avoid them.

And then it came to me... the answer to the comfort food question... and just to add to the uniqueness of this answer, it is something I have not eaten for more than twenty years.

Shad roe.

And I'll wager that some of you are saying Huh? or What's that?

Shad roe is the roe -- the egg sacks -- of the shad, a large fish (I believe related to herring) that is an ocean-dweller but which (like salmon) is anadromous; that is, when it is spawning season, time to lay their eggs, they return to the inland waters where they had been hatched.

My maternal grandfather would supplement family income by commercial fishing during the spring shad run. According to my mother, he would do a good business selling the shad he caught, especially on Fridays to the Irish and Italian Catholics in our neighborhood. (I cannot understand why anyone would want to cook and eat shad; I swear it has more bones than any other fish I have ever seen.) The roe, however, was not a big seller and so that is what the fisherman's family got to eat. (I do not understand that either; among seafood aficionados shad roe is considered a delicacy and upscale seafood restaurants would feature it during its brief season.)

So my mother had grown up loving shad roe and she passed that on to my brother and me. We looked forward every spring to the shad run when Mom would walk down to the river to buy fresh roe from a commercial fisherman. When went off to college, classes began later in the fall than they do now and spring semester ended later than now, so that I returned home from college after the end of the shad run, but Mom would have frozen some roes so that I wouldn't miss out. (Shad also run up the Delaware and Susequehanna, so I was sometimes able to find it in local markets when I was living in Binghamton and cooked it as a treat for myself -- Nancy does not especially care for it.)

Even when polution in the Hudson was so bad that you were not supposed to eat fish caught there, it was still safe to eat shad roe because the shad had spent years out in the Atlantic and did not pause to eat on its spawning journey up the Hudson. (I will, however, always despise General Electric for the vast quantities of PCB and other chemicals that it dumped into the Hudson.) These days the river has been cleaned up (at vast cost).

How do you cook shad roe? The roe -- a pair of roe sacks, each containing tens of thousand of tiny eggs -- is lightly dusted with flour and then sautéed in melted butter in a skillet. It must not be cooked at a high temperature (else you will ruin the roe and also will burn the butter) -- gently sauté until lightly browned. I have seen recipes that include bacon but although I do like the slogan "everything is better with bacon" I do not use bacon with shad roe. It should be served just the way my mother fixed it -- sautéed in butter and then served with maître d’ butter sauce (Beurre a la Maître d'Hôtel) -- 1/4 pound melted butter (if it hasn't browned too much, you might use any leftover butter from cooking), a pinch of two of salt (plus perhaps a pinch of ground pepper, preferably white pepper), lemon juice (a couple of tablespoons) and some freshly chopped parsley (perhaps four tablespoons), stir together -- if made ahead of time, chill it in refrigerator until you serve it.

Okay, perhaps you can see why I have not had it in more than twenty years. It packs a considerable amount of calories and a lot of those calories are from fat. This year I was thinking that perhaps -- as a one time special indulgence -- I would watch for shad roe in the fish and seafood department of my favorite supermarket, but I never saw it on display (although I had seen it there in past years).

The number of shad spawing up the Hudson had decreased during the high pollution days (apparently many of each year's new crop of fish failed to survive to make it to the ocean) but as the river was cleaned up, the number of shad increased. That seemed to peak in the mid to late eighties. Since then, the number of shad in the spring shad run has declined. In recent years it has declined precipitously and this year all shad fishing in the Hudson was banned. (On the Delaware River they cut the sport fishing limit in half and banned all commercial shad fishing.)

I will have to look for it next spring... or the spring after... until I do find it for sale. It is an awesome load of calories (oh, but it is also high in Omega-3, etc., so that's a good thing) because now that I've sat here thinking about it and writing about it, I am absolutely salivating for some tasty shad roe.

From Cole Porter's lyrics for Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love:
Some Argentines without means do it
People say in Boston even beans do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Romantic sponges they say do it
Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Cold Cape Cod clams 'gainst their wish do it
Even lazy jellyfiss do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

Electric Eels, I might add do it
Though it shocks 'em I know
Why ask if shad do it
Waiter bring me shad roe

In shallow shoals, English soles do it
Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love

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