It’s not surprising that shad roe hasn’t hit the big time. The season is incredibly short – a month or so in early spring, and it looks quite funky, a glistening, puffed, veined, u-shaped sack of roe. It’s fish offal, and if you thought it was tough to get your friends to dig into a chunk of calf’s liver, try introducing them to shad roe. On the plus side, the only way to prepare shad roe is in a frying pan, and fried food is generally good food.
I used to take guitar lessons from a guy who lived in a walk-up on 28th street who, when he wasn’t teaching or smoking, seemed to spend most of his time searching for parking spaces, a central part of the job, as I came to learn. He was sort of half-busy with jobs and when anyone called, he shot out of his chair to grasp the offer. It was usually a hospital or bar mitzvah or something like that, most of which required him to throw the guitar and amp in the trunk and head off. Hence the significance of the car. Without the car, he wouldn’t have taken the gig singing upstate at the annual shad festival, an event to which I admit ignorance. A weird job admittedly, but it introduced me to shad roe and for that I’m grateful.
The shad festival is like other ingredient-themed festivals, except it’s pretty low-key, and you can only cook the main item in one way (see above). Without the option of ice cream, shad dogs, or shad funnel cakes, you’re left with pan-fried shad. I piled the shad and shad roe high on the plate, sat on a picnic bench and warily took a bite.
The roe was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside-always a good thing. But the flavor and texture was unusual. It’s not fishy or gamy as you might expect. It’s hearty and earthy, if you can imagine such a thing in a fish. As to texture, you can cut and lift a forkful, but also detect the essential component: thousands of tiny eggs. Like sweetbreads, a land offal, it’s unusual, difficult to describe, yet quite tasty.
The cool thing about shad roe is that you can treat it as you would land offal: wrapped in bacon; garnished with hearty veg; in a formidable red wine sauce. We’ve offered a few options: blistered peppers; lemon zest and tarragon; on a bun with a spicy remoulade sauce.
I’m not sure what my guitar teacher’s up to these days, but I hope he’s still playing the shad festival. It’s on the riverbank, the air is piny and smoky from grilling fish, and it beats a bar mitzvah.
(NOTE: Shishito peppers are perfect for this dish: served as tapas, they’re cooked briefly and thrown on a plate. But they’re hard to find. We fried up a variety of hot peppers, but sliced green and red bell peppers would work great.)
Shad Roe 3 Ways
4 large shad roe
¼ cup canola
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
- Divide the oil and butter between two large pans. Place over medium high heat. Dry and season the roe on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredging in flour is optional but not necessary. When very hot and butter foam has subsided, gently slip in the roe and cook till brown and crisp on both sides, 4 or so minutes per side. Remove to a platter and serve with the following accompaniments or in a sandwich.
- Zest of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of minced tarragon, 2 tablespoons minced shallots. Toss in a bowl and sprinkle over the shad.
- Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over high heat until smoking; throw in a large handful of chopped, mixed peppers and cook, barely stirring, until blistered and slightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove to a tray and season with salt.
- Shad roe sandwich: in a medium bowl, whisk together: 1 cup mayo, 1 tablespoon chopped capers, 1 tablespoon chopped cornichons, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon Tabasco, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire, ½ teaspoon cayenne, 1 tablespoon minced shallot, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Spread sauce on bun, top with lettuce, tomato, and shad roe.