Last year we posted about shad roe on March 31st. This year, we’re only a couple of weeks shy of June. Shad roe is an ephemeral treat whose enjoyment is only enhanced by the unpredictability of its arrival. The roe may appear anytime between the Ides of March and early June, available on short notice, then vanishing after a few weeks. I found three seafood stores had the roe… yesterday. A lone purveyor* had it when I actually wanted it, a day before blogging. So if you’re inclined to make this week’s Tagliatelle with Shad Roe, Pancetta and Peas, finish reading this and immediately pick up the phone. If your favorite fish vendor doesn’t have the roe today, he may be able to get it for you tomorrow. Next week you might still get lucky, or not. That’s the way shad rolls.
For newcomers to shad roe, leaping into an entrée-size portion can be a bit daunting, like springing off the high dive before learning to jump from the edge of the pool. You know it won’t kill you, but the experience doesn’t promise to be much fun. Better to work up to it. As I mentioned in our earlier post, a little poached roe mixed into scrambled eggs, pasta or risotto adds a once-a-year seafood base note. Add a little more and the roe contributes a definite creaminess to any sauce’s texture, along with flavors that are both nutlike and marine at the same time. Bacon is a traditional accompaniment, but pancetta is a little milder, giving the roe’s flavor a chance to sing when paired with other ingredients. Spring peas offer a sweet counterpoint and a splash of color.
There’s nothing technically difficult about this dish. You can either removed the membrane of the poached roe sac with a pairing knife or slice the sac open on a cutting board and peel the membrane away in a few big slices (insert voice of Wicked Witch of the West here: “It must be done delicately, very delicately,”) Nothing that a pancreatic surgeon couldn’t do in her sleep.
In good years we enjoy shad roe 2 or 3 times–and then it’s gone, like warblers, monarch butterflies and fiddleheads, before non-partakers even have time to wonder what all the fuss was about. Enjoy. Ken
*Anyone local on the hunt for shad roe might want to try Courthouse Seafood in Cambridge, where I bought ours.
Tagliatelle with Shad Roe, Pancetta and Spring Peas
Makes 4 entrée servings
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ½ small onion, thinly sliced crosswise
- ½ celery stalk, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 set/pair shad roe sacs (about 8 ounces total)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into ¼ inch strips
- 4-5 shallots minced, about 1 cup
- 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup blanched English peas
- 2 cups pea tips or cress
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh horseradish or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
- ¾ pound fresh tagliatelle
- Juice of ½ lemon,
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil with the white wine, onion, celery, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook 15 minutes. Gently slip the roe sacs into the liquid (you don’t want the membrane holding everything together to rupture) and simmer 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the roe to cool in the liquid. Carefully remove the cool roe sacs from the poaching liquid. Remove the blood vessel and any heavy pieces of membrane. Split sacs in half and gently peel off the the membranes. Transfer the clean roe to a bowl. Use a fork to gently mash it into small clumps. Remove any obvious remaining membrane. Season with salt and pepper.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat starts to render, about a minute. Don’t let it get too crispy. Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the peas, pea tips, tarragon and horseradish and toss until the pea tips have wilted. Keep warm.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring so the individual strands remain separate. Wait 1 minute, then stir again. Check periodically during cooking to make sure the strands aren’t sticking together. Cook until the tagliatelle is tender but still offers a little resistance as you bite into it, about 2 minutes.
- Add the roe to the pan with the peas.
- Scoop the pasta out of the water and into the pan with the roe and toss well. If the sauce seems too thick to coat the pasta, add a few spoonfuls of pasta water to thin it, then toss again. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Be especially generous with pepper. Serve immediately.
Whenever I work with shad roe, I think of my father. He was a huge fan. His approach was very simple. Cook the roe sacs in lots of butter slowly. Eat with the butter and a squeeze of lemon. It wasn’t until I became a cook that I appreciated his annual shad roe passion. He also ate smoked kippers in the morning. Even though he kept the doors to the kitchen closed and turned on the exhaust fan, the entire house would fill with the smoky fishy smell of the kippers. As a teenager, I thought it was wretched. Now I understand. The other day my mother confessed that she was feeling guilty that she missed her annual shad roe dinner. She said, “It’s not my favorite, but it was your father’s, so I always like to have one meal of shad roe in the spring in his honor. I guess it will have to wait until next year.” I didn’t push it by telling her there was still roe in the market.
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