Scandinavian Fish Roe

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Scandinavian people have a predilection for anything with fish eggs, something that we share with the Russians. We love the roe from lumpfish, cod and all its relatives, and also from vendace and powans which are inhabitants of primarily Swedish lakes and produce particularly delicious and expensive roe.

Like the rest of the world we also enjoy the shine, orange beads from sea trout and salmon, though while they are lovely as a garnish they are a bit too oily to eat on their own.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Boiled cod roe

Maybe we have become too conservative in our choices, and eating roes from a wider variety of fish certainly makes good sense, given the ongoing problem of overfishing in our seas and oceans. Already some of the most popular roes, including from cod, have moved from everyday staple to luxury.

While roes vary in texture and color, they all share a breezy sea taste – un the same way oysters and mussels do – and a sweet, mineral-rich flavor.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Hot smoked cod’s roe

Buying and storing
Roes are seasonal treat, to be eaten fresh in early spring.

They can be bought fresh and unsalted (sometimes in the membrane), salted or smoked, depending on the type. Cod’s roe, flatfish roe and herring roe are usually bought fresh, to be cooked at home, while other types of roe are often bought salted and are eaten raw.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Cyclopeterus lumpus (lumpfish)

Salmon, trout and lumpfish roes can be bought either salted and cleaned, or come in a whole membrane, to be cleaned and salted at home. Preserves of roes are not worth the cost and will deprive you of the seasonality and taste of fresh roes.

As with all other food from the sea, roe must smell invitingly fresh. You should generally steer clear of frozen roes, except for those of the vendace and powan – they are so small that they are not really affected by freezing. Canned roes (of cod or salmon, for example) are not to be recommended; they are too oily and salty, without the fresh sea taste of the real stuff.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Cod’s roe dish

Health benefits
Fish roe is rich in minerals, vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids.

Culinary uses
Cod’s roes, flatfish roes and herring roes are boiled or fried whole and eaten hot for dinner with a rich sauce and potatoes – if fried alongside, or baked inside, the fish, they have a very different soft and creamy consistency – or eaten cold on an open sandwich.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Cooked cod’s roe

Salted salmon, trout, lumpfish and vendace roes are never heated, but eaten as a topping on open sandwiches, or as garnish for all kinds of dishes with fish, as a starter with blinis or potato pancakes, lemon, crème fraiche and sharp sweetness from the onions is just perfect.

Cod’s roe
All over Scandinavia, cod’s roe – and of the cod’s many relatives, often sold as cod’s roe – is very popular. It is also versatile, and can be eaten either fresh (boiled or fried) or smoked. But while eating cod’s roe used to be an everyday experience, since strict fishing quotas have been imposed ut has become very expensive.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Canned cod’s roe

Fresh cod’s roe is in season in early spring. Try to buy small roes, about the size of two fingers, as they are by far the most delicious, creamy and sweet; the large cod’s roes can be rather coarse and grainy, mainly because the eggs are too mature. The eggs must have intact membranes, or the roe will be impossible to prepare, whether it is to be boiled, fried or smoked. No cleaning is required.

Boiled whole cod’s roe is delicious served plain and hot for dinner, with potatoes and lemon and a rich sauce, such as egg sauce or the hollandaise. The boiled, cooled roes can also be sliced, fried in butter until crisp, and served with same accompaniments. Boiled and cooled, cod’s roe makes a classic open sandwich, sliced on rye bread with a lemony mayonnaise or remoulade, fresh dill and lemon. This is seasonal food at its very best.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Egg and roe sandwich

Smoked cod’s roes, and roes from many of its relatives often sold as cod’s roes, are a delicious topping for open sandwiches, either hot or cold smoked. The hot-smoked version is browned on the outside and firm inside, and is easy to make at home; it is delicious on rye bread with a homemade mayonnaise and lemon. Cold-smoked cod’s roe looks like amber and is soft. It’s either spread on toast or rye bread as it is, or made into a Nordic version of taramasalata, with crème fraiche and/or mayonnaise, dill and black pepper, to beaten, preferably, on crispbread. This is the real thing compared to the ever-popular Nordic industrial spread sold in tubes in every supermarket. This is eaten in crispbread often with hard-boiled egg and cucumber, and I must confess it vis actually rather good, even if purists enjoy disliking it.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Cooking cod’s roe

Boiled cod’s roes
Wrap the roes in separate parcels of parchment paper, making sure the packages are even in size; you can put several small roes together in one parcel. Arrange them tightly in a pan and cover with cold salted water (allow 1 generous handful of salt per 2 liter of water). Bring slowly to the boil.

Small roes need to cook for 3 minutes from boiling point, huge ones 10 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and let the roes cool in the water. If you aim to eat them as they are, let them steep in water for 15 minutes. Remove the outer membrane before eating.

Cod’s roes must be boiled the day they are bought, after that, they will keep for 2 days in the fridge.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
“Caviar” in tube

Herring roe
The eggs of herring roe are large, and a little gritty, and must be fried or baked. It was once common to eat herring roe but now very few people do, maybe because many regard fresh herrings with disrespect as poor man’s food. As a result, it can be hard to find herring roes, but they are delicious.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Lofot caviar

Flatfish roe
Personally, I like creamy, pale roes from flatfish such as sole and turbot; these are usually fried or baked alongside or inside the fish they come from, and are eaten as a bonus with the fish.

Vendance and powan roes
Several fish in the Coregonus family, part of the salmon family, yield the most expensive and delicate of all the Scandinavian roes. It is usually called løjrom, no matter what the fish. The Kalix løjrom, from Sweden, is a protected name, and is always from the Coregonus albula, or vendace, a small, silvery fish living in the Baltic. It is eaten as it comes, raw, but salted, in small quantities, like real sturgeon caviar. It’s delicious just served on plain toast with a little lemon, dill and crème fraiche, and onion or chives; as a topping for boiled, baked or fried fish; or with potato pancakes.

If you buy frozen vendace or powan roes, open the package and let is thaw in the fridge, if large; however, very few people can afford a package too large to be thawed on the kitchen worktop in an hour. Eat within 2 days, as long as correctly stored in the fridge.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Frozen salmon roe

Salmon and sea trout roe
You can buy these large beaded beauties fresh when they are in season, in early spring; or you may be lucky enough to buy (or even catch) a whole fish with the eggs inside. Salmon roe can be bought fresh, already cleaned and salted, but it’s not difficult to do it yourself, as with lumpfish roe.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Lumpfish roe

Lumpfish roe
Fresh lumpfish roe can look like a weird glow.in-the-dark toy, the spooky fluorescent sheen caused by unharmful algae. In Scandinavia, roes from the female lumpfish are abundant in spring (the fish itself is extremely ugly and flabby and is not eaten), rather expensively, or not cleaned, very cheaply; or you may be lucky enough to catch or buy a whole fish with the eggs inside. It is not difficult to clean the roes yourself, but it’s not a job for the faint-hearted as the giant bag filled with millions of rosy beads looks positively monstrous. When salted, the roes will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.

Lumpfish roe is rosy by nature, and we unfortunately have a bad habit of dying it dark grey, black or very red (to imitate sturgeon roes) and marketing it as ‘caviar’ sold in glass jars. It’s a mess on the plate, is too salty and has a strange chemical taste. In short, it is disgusting in every way and should be avoided.

Lumpfish roe is eaten like løjrom, with blinis or crisp potato pancakes, or just plainly on rye bread or toast. It’s often paired with crème fraiche, lemon juice and red onion.

Scandinavian Fish Roe
Pressure treated fish eggs

How to clean and salt roes
Salmon, trout and lumpfish roes must be cleaned and salted before use.

Put the whole roe, inside its membrane, in a large bowl with a handful of coarse salt. Add cold water almost to cover. Whisk with a balloon whisk until the non-edible parts cling to the whisk; you amy have to clean the whisk several times. Rinse through a fine sieve and clean under the cold tap, then leave to dry off any excess moisture. Adjust the salt – yoy ant enough to bring out the falvour, bit not too much. Eat within 3 days.

Scandinavian Fish Roe, written by Tor Kjolberg

Related content:
Scandinavian Flatfish
Scandinavian Monkfish
Scandinavian Garfish

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