Steelhead Salmon Roe

One of the most wonderful women I ever met was a Bay Area Indian who brought me freshly processed steelhead caviar eggs every week during the season. Tasting them was a revelation. Until then, I had never seen commercially sold salmon eggs (even from the great Russian-French caviar houses) that were not glorified fish bait—oily, smelly, and inedible. Now of course there are many sources for delicious salmon eggs. Making them yourself is, however, much cheaper.

We used the superb fresh eggs on cornmeal blini, on oysters, on little toasts floating on top of chilled fresh fava bean or green pea soup, or covering the entire top of baked potatoes drenched with chive flower butter.

Do not shy away from buying these eggs the next time you see a sack of them at a fish counter. You can process them yourself quite easily, remembering that the quality of the final salt is important, since there are only two ingredients here—eggs and salt. Use hand-harvested salt from the Camargue, the island of Ré, the Guérande in Brittany, or from Oahu in Hawaii.

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Ingredients

  • 1 steelhead egg sack, weighing 2–3 pounds
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 ounce or more hand-harvested sea salt

Method

Choose a glass or metal bowl large enough to hold the egg sack and several cups of water.

Put the eggs in the bowl and cover with 6 inches of cold water. Add the kosher salt and six ice cubes. Stir around with your hands very gently, and wait for 15 minutes. Then start pulling the membrane off the eggs until about half of it is gone. Work as quickly as you can without damaging any of the eggs.

Put the eggs in a sieve with holes just big enough to let the eggs through, and place the sieve over a bowl. Push the eggs around the sieve with your fingers, pulling membrane away and discarding it, while pushing the eggs gently through the holes. Occasionally dunk the sieve back in a bowl of clean iced water if that helps.

When you have collected all the eggs in the bowl, remove any last bits of membrane, and drain the eggs in a fine sieve for 5 minutes. Put them in a dry bowl, add 1 tablespoon of sea salt, and mix gently with your fingers until all the salt is dissolved. Taste an egg. It should have a slightly salty taste; lightly salted or “malassol” roe is at 2½ percent salt. The commercial roe is around 4 percent, which is perhaps why the eggs are bruised and leak moisture.

So for pounds of eggs, use 1 ounce of salt.

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