Salmon Caviar Ikura

The cohos are in! The cohos are in! Seems like my social media feed was full of folks putting up pics of their beautiful weekend salmon. I went out with my dad on Sunday, and after some weird hook shenanigans, we brought in three gorgeous coho. It was a perfect day on the water.

My father spent many years working for Silver Lining Seafoods, a processor out of Ketchikan, and while there he oversaw the salmon roe grading for Japanese ikura markets. I asked him what he thought about Coho roe. He explained that by far the most valued salmon roe is Keta (the kinder, more lovely name for Dog or Chum salmon) which is big and gorgeous. King comes next, but he said that as long as the roe is extremely fresh, he didn’t see why it wouldn’t work.

The biggest concern is texture. Essentially you can’t make quality ikura (or salmon cavier) out of frozen roe, once the roe freezes, the cell walls break-down, and the texture goes to hell. The roe also has to be as fresh as possible and ideally should be placed on ice as soon as the fish comes out of the water. Because of this, it’s easiest to make ikura from roe you harvest yourself (so you can ensure the quality), but if you’ve got a fish-slaying buddy, just ask them to put the roe on ice as quick as possible and you’ll be good to go.

To test the texture of finished ikura, you place a single egg on the tip of your tongue and press the egg against the top of your mouth. It should offer some resistance, and then burst (hopefully with a flavor you like).

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After filleting out the three fish I took home, I whipped up a very simple salmon caviar/ikura recipe, freehanding it based off of the cooperative extension’s handout. It took me about fifteen minutes to prep and then I brined for another fifteen minutes, an easy lunch-time project.

Salmon Caviar Ikura

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  • 2 skeins fresh salmon roe
  • 2 cups ice water
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt

If not already partially open, slit salmon roe skein membrane. Place a metal grate drying rack over a bowl (you can also use chicken wire) and place skein membrane-side up, slide back and forth over the grate, forcing the eggs through. You’ll be surprised at how well the eggs hold together through this manhandling. Once separated, pour eggs into a fine sieve strainer and rinse under cold water, removing any extra membrane or broken eggs you see.

Drain.

While the eggs drain, mix together the remaining brine ingredients in a medium/small bowl and whisk until full incorporated. Pour eggs into the brine. Let sit for 5 – 30 minutes, or until you enjoy the level of saltiness. Try them every five minutes or so. I let mine brine for 15 minutes.

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Spoon into a fine-meshed strainer and rinse under cold water. Taste. If not salty enough, you can return them to the brine for another couple of minutes. Once rinsed, pour into a clean jar and cover tightly.

Keep refrigerated for up to 10 days.

This made one perfect half-pint of ikura, more than enough for two of us.

Again, do not put these in the freezer or you’ll ruin the texture.

IMG_5843Delicious on crackers, and especially delicious served with the classic caviar set-up: toast points topped with sour cream, finely diced onions, and finely diced egg yolk.

You can also incorporate ikura into all sorts of dinner dishes. It went beautifully in the daikon cucumber relish with miso-glazed coho from this recipe on epicurious. There is something weirdly satisfying about eating salmon roe with the salmon it came from.

With the slight soy taste to these eggs, I really like how they mix in with japanese/korean inspired dishes with bright flavors, but these also go great in pasta or scrambles and omelets.

For such a quick little project, this is one “whole animal” item that I’ll be making again. I think dad would be proud of my ikura’s pop.

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