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.
Go ahead; click on something to see it with a little more detail. Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.
Jody, My dad was a kippers and shad roe guy, too! Maybe it’s a generational thing. It’s great that you are posting about this, since it’s not exactly front burner fare. And wow on the photos, too, Ken. Great post.
Hi, Sally–Ah, those Yankee traditionalists! You’re right, shad roe and kippers don’t get much play these days. I think it’s because they’re flavors for grown-ups, like scotch or old-school Chianti. You have to give them an opportunity to grow on you. Ken
très belle recette !
Merci, Lydie! Je n’ai jamais vu les oeufs d’alose en France, peut-être parce que je n’etais jamais la visiter en printemps. Mais je suis sûr qu’ils seronts quand-même delicieux. Ken
moi non plus, et je ne sais pas quand je pourrai tester cette recette, mais elle donne faim ! ;)
It’s so interesting to get both takes from you two about the food. When I saw the shad roe I instantly thought of my mother and how she so looked forward to shad season. I admit that it has never held any appeal to me, but . . . who knows. i appreciate the slow approach rather then the whole hog.
Jody is definitely more full-speed-ahead when it comes to shad roe than I am. This recipe takes you on a date and then drops you off at home before midnight, instead of forcing you into an arranged marriage. Ken
Loved the post and my Mom was a huge fan of shad roe,too…I actually liked it as a kid (probably because of the butter:) Thanks for bringing back such fond memories plus your recipe looks yummy and I’ll give it a go! BA
Thanks, BA. Let me know how it goes. I had never heard of it as a kid, and if I had, I probably would have been so weirded out I wouldn’t have a come within a mile of it. Eating new and different foods when you’re young is a bit like learning to read: You need to see big people doing it and enjoying it. Ken
so, no brining in this year’s take. Unnecessary or would it hurt things?
We decided to just go with it. The color of this years supply was much paler than last year, with less evident venous structure, so less blood to purge. Finally, we wanted to make sure that the roe’s flavor didn’t completely disappear with the other ingredients. If I were going to eat the roe straight up, I’d probably still brine. Ken
I’ve never had shad row, maybe next spring (autumn in the antipodes). I’ll keep an eye out. Such a good photo of the tagliatelle hanging up to dry!
Do they have shad in the antipodes? I know they exist in the Pacific, but I’ve never heard of them below the equator. Glad you enjoyed the photo. I drove Jody crazy while setting it up. :-) Ken
I don’t know if we have shad here, another question for my fishmonger maybe..
I grew up with an adventurous cook of a mother, albeit with considerable constraints on the local ingredients and the purse. But when my father, a chicken-and-potatoes sort of man traveled on business, we ate all the offal he could not stomach. This added an allure of illicit pleasure to our explorations. When I moved from Texas to the DC area after law school, tutored both by my mother and Julia on television, I jumped at the chance to cook shad roe, something I’d probably only read about in the Joy of Cooking. Yes, joy indeed. Now in the midwest, I hope our fishmarket still has shad roe. Once a year, a seasonal celebration. Thanks for a beautiful new way to prepare it!
[My heart still probably struggles to overcome the effects of the veal kidneys in mustard cream sauce I used to prepare for our daughter when MY husband traveled on business while she was young.]
Ooh, kidneys in mustard sauce–I know that dish! Jody and I–much to the delight of the service staff–enjoyed the same preparation with “rognons blancs” at a Paris bistro some years ago. When I asked our waiter what “white kidneys” were he responded with the colloquial French expression for “balls.” When I further inquired whose balls were being prepared, he shook his head mournfully and replied, “One never knows.” Great narrative about illicit offal. Thanks for sharing it. Ken
Another year. Another (beautiful!) shad roe dish. And still I have none. :(
But as you so lovingly document, there are local delicacies you folks enjoy (I’m thinking heritage pork) that are rare treats here. Ken
Are you Irish? Or Scottish? It’s the only time I have kippers for breakfast…
Brits (Jody) like kippers too! Ken
How could I forget?!! I’ve been to England many times (my daughter lives in London) and I really find the English breakfast so satisfying and fascinating, that that’s what I typically order there. Or fish, or smoked salmon. The Irish don’t include the baked canned beans in their full Irish Breakfasts. Such a shame. You should do a post on this phenomenon they call breakfast!
Love this whole post but especially the fresh pasta photo.
Thanks, Mimi–it was fun and took a few tries, but I was happy with the way it came out. ken
Fresh peas and pasta were a yearly treat growing up. Never tried shad roe, unfortunately. I was at my fishmonger’s this morning, too. This will teach me to fall behind reading blogs. One of the benefits of blogging is being introduced to new foods. Shad roe falls into that category for me. Thanks for providing today’s benefit. :)
Always happy to oblige regarding new foods, John. You might want to check out our post from last year. We didn’t want to repeat everything about handling and prepping roe in this recent post (there’s a link to the earlier one above). Ken
beautiful pictures. would love to taste shad roe but haven’t got a clue where to get anything like this in Germany – seafood is so hard to come by here.
Hmmm… you really have me stumped. German has three words for shad: “alose” (same as the French); “maifisch,” which suggests an awareness of shad spawning season, and “alse.” In this country shad and its roe are not at all well-known, although it has been eaten here for a long long time, first by Native Americans, then by European settlers. I do know that the English were eating shad in their homeland long before its consumption became widespread by colonists. I suspect there are Germans who eat shad roe but, much as here, it’s probably considered a niche food, and available only when you ask a good fishmonger to get some for you. Good luck. I’d be very interested in hearing back from you on how your quest turned out. Ken
I was reading another blog and idly clicked on your name in the comments and MY GOODNESS, am i glad I did, beautiful recipe but your images are glorious! thank you so much for such a lovely page.. c
Hi, Cecilia–Thank you so much for your kind words. The pictures are to lure you in, so you read the blog, and maybe even cook something. :) Ken
I grow all my own food out here on the prairies, meat and vegetables and fruit, but sadly no roe, I am interested to see what you will lure me to next!! .. c
One of my favorite parts of your blog is how I’m constantly surprised by new ways of looking at food. I’d never even considered eating shad roe, but you both just make it look so delectable that it will go on my to-taste list. :)
At some point we’ll do a post about the bottarga (dried sacs of mullet roe) sitting in our fridge. Southern Italians grate it over pasta for yet one more variation on the how-to-add-a bit-of-the-sea to the flavor. Then you can talk about adding something really obscure. :) Ken
Thank you again for every week of splendour and gorgeousness. And that photo of the fresh pasta hanging – please! Stop! Also, what about Arcane Niches as the title of your next cookbook?
Arcane – one of my favorite words! Right up there with recondite and occult. Now if I could only figure out how to sell the same number of books as Dan Brown… But thanks. Ken
Ken – apropos of nothing whatsoever to do with this post, I found this intriguing piece on garum I thought you might enjoy. Matthew Fort is a food writer in the UK, and a man after your own heart, methinks. http://fortonfood.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/colatura-di-alici/
Hi, Sophie–Nice little piece, told with the kind of raffish bon vivant tone we all know and love. Interesting reference to the *terzigni* and the observation that the process take 4-5 months to complete. By contrast, Asian fish sauce ordinaire take 3 weeks. Thanks for the intro–I’ll probably follow him. Ken
Stunning photos and food! Someone just blogged this quote and I thought of you two…..
“Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.”
– Samuel Pepys
Cindy–for some reason I didn’t get a notice that this comment arrived. Thanks for stopping by and leaving the great quote. Pepys is a delight, but I’ve not seen that quote before. Ken
looks great – tagliatelle is a favourite of mine
I was about to write, “Hi, Tholos,” then realized that’s probably not your name. Fresh tagliatelle is a treat. Actually ANY fresh handmade pasta is a delight. Thanks for stopping by. Ken
I love this recipe. The photos are actually very helpful. So you remove the membrane after you poach it. Your first photo of the hanging tagliatelle is really beautiful. I guess it has to be to make up for the shad roe/wet lungs. :)
Even wet lungs and shad roe need love. :-) Ken
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Thanks to you I recognize shad roe at the markets now and last night I bought a pair. I’m looking to prepare it in something other than butter so I’m making this tonight. Very excited. Miss you guys. xo
Thank you, Amanda. Don’t give up on us – we’ll be back. Just in the middle of moving, travel for photography, and opening new restaurants. Life will settle down once we’re in our new house and everything is up and running. Enjoy the shad roe. Sorry I’m not eating at your house tonight. Ken
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the japanese like to eat cod roe spaghettti. they basically remove the roe from the sac and add it to a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper and toasted minced garlic. Transfer the cooked spaghetti to the mixture and let the heat of the cooked spaghetti cook the roe. I wonder if I can try that with shad roe…
Wow! No idea, honestly. The thing is, roe can differ pretty dramatically