Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to Make Trout Caviar

The stream trout season on Wisconsin's inland waters closed at midnight this past Sunday, September 30.  I made up for a disappointing fishing year by logging some serious stream hours during the last week and a half of fishing--my shoulders are still aching from hours of wearing an overloaded fishing vest into which I had stuffed every fly box I could find, containing everything from teeny, tiny size 24 midge patterns to two-inch long streamers and weighted, rubber-legged girdle bugs, because, well, you never know what you might need, and in late September fishing you may be called upon to switch tactics radically in the space of an hour.  There are hatches of miniscule mayflies and midges which bring trout to feed selectively at the surface, in which case one must be able to match the hatch very closely; and then, the fish feel fall coming on, and the spawning season, so they are feisty and hungry, and can be tempted to go after those flies that represent a much bigger meal.

The latter tactic proved most successful for me in the waning days of the season, so I was able to add yet more weight to the vest in the form of trout, mainly browns.  And some of those fish turned out to be hen trout of breeding age, which gave me the opportunity to prepare what around here we refer to as "The Titular Delicacy," i.e., trout caviar.

I often say that the hardest part about making bacon is finding a source for pork belly; similarly, the hardest part of making trout caviar is coming into some trout roe.  If you live near a trout farm, you may be able to get some there--I've obtained rainbow trout roe from the Star Prairie Trout Farm in the past.  If you fish for Great Lakes salmon or steelhead, or know someone who does, the roe of those lake-run fish can be treated the same way that I prepare the roe of brown and brook trout from my local streams.  Here's the somewhat messy process that results in a truly exquisite treat:

When you open up a mature female trout at this time of year you find the body cavity packed with roe contained in egg sacs surrounded by a clear, veined membrane.

My hands are clean, but stained from working with black walnuts!

And now I must digress a bit, because in trying to nail down the terminology of caviar, I've just gone down a bit of a rabbit hole.  I used to think the membranous sac surrounding the roe was called a skein, but I've now come to think that skein refers to the eggs themselves.  Skein in general refers to a loose agglomeration of things--often a loosely gathered bunch of yarn or thread, or in another common usage, it refers to geese:  "One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring." — Aldo Leopold.  In none of the online dictionaries that I consulted did I find any reference to fish roe, nor was that usage listed in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, print version.  However, there are plenty of references to skeins on various fishing-related sites, and a quick survey of some of these reveals much confusion as to what skein actually means.  I've found it used to mean the membrane, the roe, and the two combined.  Therefore, I am going to eschew using it at all, and just refer to the sac, and the roe.  Thanks for your patience.

I used to think the sac was gray, but Mary helped document the caviar making process this time, and she cleverly pointed out that it's actually red.  I have this little color blindness thing going on, so I can sometimes miss details like that.  When Mary mentioned the color of the sac, it immediately made sense to me: there are veins in the sac that carry blood, probably to bring oxygen to the eggs, so I guess it's an organ, not just a functional material.

What you want to get rid of. 

Besides obtaining your roe to start with, separating the sac from the eggs is the only difficult part of the process.  The sac is delicate, so it breaks easily as you try to carefully scrape away the eggs.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.  I use the dull side of a couple of paring knives to separate eggs from sac.

You're going to break a few eggs, but the eggs, in fact, are pretty sturdy.  You just go at it confidently, working quickly but carefully.  It's not necessary that the eggs be totally clean of membrane at this point, as you can pick out any stray pieces after rinsing.

The water turns pink and cloudy as bits of membrane and blood are rinsed away.

Rinse a couple of times, and drain well.

Weigh the roe.  That's just about an ounce, 29 grams.  That might not seem like a lot, but this roe was from a  pretty small fish, just a 12-inch brown.  And the caviar is rich; a little goes a long way.

The salt should be a bit less than 10 percent of the weight of the roe--in the book I say 4 grams salt--that's a scant quarter-teaspoon--to 50 grams of roe.  I didn't quite trust my Ikea scale to accurately weigh two grams of salt, so I went with the volume/eyeball method, and lightly coated the surface of the roe with salt.  That turned out to be the perfect amount.  This batch of caviar was nicely cured and not at all too salty.  We enjoyed it as part of my birthday raw foods dinner, along with a plate of lovely oysters, and steak tartare.  I share my birthday, October 1, with Rod Carew, the People's Republic of China (which made for quite a gala day for me, the two years I passed my birthday in Chengdu), Julie Andrews, Vladimir Horowitz, and Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie & Clyde!).  That it falls the day after closing day takes a lot of the sting out of seeing another fishing season come to an end.

Trout caviar will keep for around a week--in the book I say four to five days, playing it safe.  But it's best eaten fresh, within a day or two.  The salt will permeate the eggs within a few hours, so you can make it in the afternoon and eat it that evening.

I think it should be easy to see why I'm so enthusiastic about this stuff.  On a thin slice of homemade sourdough rye, with some Hope butter and a dab of a goat yogurt-cream mixture flavored with shallots and black pepper, it made a delectable bite.  I have the roe from two trout killed on closing day to salt and consume, and then I'll have to wait until next autumn to enjoy it again.  It's worth the wait.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw


Nancy @ rivertreekitchen said...

Such a perfectly celebratory post for your birthday (bonne anniversaire, by the way). We're very familiar with color impairment in our house. Can you see the bright orange of the trout roe?

Joey Meicher said...

That looks amazing! I just arrived at the Helsinki airport, and the first thing I saw in the gift shop was a jar of trout roe and a bunch of cured fish. I thought of you immediately, and how much better the airport food in Europe is compared to what we find in the US.

s said...

Fascinating stuff--Also happy birthday! (And a belated happy anniversary, I forgot to leave a comment on that one). 21 years!

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Nancy: Thanks for the birthday wishes. I'm red-green color blind, but I can distinguish most colors, so yes, I can appreciate the beautiful orange of the roe. It's the subtler hues than I miss, or when you put orange and green together, I have a hard time telling them apart. Purple and blue look quite similar to me; I sometimes think greens are browns.

Joey, Helsinki! What are you doing in Finland? I am jealous--I'd love to travel there, never have. I'm sure you'll find even better eats outside the airport! Look forward to a report.

Thanks, Sara. Just left note at yours.

All best~ Brett

Jen said...

Beautiful! And happy belated to you.

Joey Meicher said...

I was actually just passing through; I had a 9 hour layover there on my way to Rome. I'm working at a farm and restaurant in Tuscany for all of October (http://www.podereilcasale.it/)
Hopefully, I'll come back with a few good ideas!

Amy said...

Photogenic buggers, those eggs. I loved this. And now I want some.

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, Jen. You had a birthday recently too, didn't you? Happy belated right back at you.

Joey, that sounds utterly fantastic. It's superfluous, I'm sure, to tell you to have a great time. Tuscany in October, man oh man.

Amy, they are pretty, aren't they? It's been a couple years since I was that fortunate in the September fishing, and having been reminded of how delicious those unctuous orbs are, I'll be more diligent at season's end.

Cheers, all~ Brett

caviar en ligne said...

Truly worth the wait :) And it was your birthday? Belated then :) You had a wonderful delicacy preparation.

And yes amy, those photos area really nice :)

Russian Caviar said...

Caviar is most expensive but most unique and royal kind of food..Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us..

FarmedCaviar said...

Really like this post on how to make trout caviar from fish to plate. SOme really good photos as well.


Bjoern Tingstad said...

Thank You for a lot of usefull information and appetizing pictures.
Could anyone help me with / or is it possible to soften up the shells of fresh trout roe ? My roe is from wild brown trout catched late in the season and has been cured for 2 days in salt and sugar .They are now hard as small superballs and perhaps not with the softness I know from earlier in the season.
I know that in nature the eggs become softer after releasing a certain enzym just to let the fry come out of the egg .

Y.S. Bjoern T.

Anonymous said...

The salt seems awfully high at ~10%. Just measured out the 14g of salt I need and was blown away by the volume. Can I get away with less? Also, did you periodically drain off the excess fluid?