Some friends asked me to accompany them last night on their smelt-fishing trip to the Kennebec River. Fish bit moderately well, giving us all enough smelt to satisfy our cravings.
As is their usual practice, my pals cleaned their fish in the ice shack prior to packing it in for the trip home. I followed suit but upon seeing that many of my smelt bulged with roe, it seemed wiser to wait until returning home to finish the chore. I wanted to make sure to save every little bit of roe and the dim light in the ice shack was insufficient for this.
Food prejudices come into play for many people who have not tried fried fish roe. Even calling it “caviar” fails to induce newbies to try a bite. Which is too bad, since roe has such a rich, sweet flavor.
Smelt roe excels not only because of its exquisite taste, but also on account of its fine texture. Other fish roe is certainly good tasting, but not all has such a fine texture, a desirable trait in fresh roe. Flounder roe comes in right along with smelt, but finding a store that offers it for sale seems an impossible task.
A long-ago fish market in Rockland used to sell flounder roe each spring and I bought lots of it. But the store is gone, as is the demand for flounder roe.
Which brings us back to smelt roe. My simple recipe calls for rolling the roes in flour and frying in olive oil or even butter until just browned. This treat tastes best when sprinkled with a bit of sea salt.
Smelt roe, one of those seasonal delicacies that I just can’t get enough of. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in experimenting with a new wild food.