Monday, September 13, 2010
Salmon roe or caviar is the eggs of the salmon, cured and used like other roe products, including the famous caviar of Eastern Europe and Russia. Depending on the region, salmon caviar may be viewed as a delicacy, and the quality and cost of this food product varies widely. As a general rule, it is less expensive than caviar, although it lacks the complex and rich flavor associated with caviar products. Many markets carry salmon caviar, in the chilled foods section and also in shelf-stable cans.
Like other forms of caviar, salmon caviar is collected by harvesting female fish shortly before spawning, when they have a large and very well-developed egg mass. The eggs are cut out, allowing the rest of the fish to be processed while the roe is carefully preserved. Traditionally, roe has been salted, but it can also be preserved in brine, frozen, eaten fresh, crushed and mixed into various pates and spreads, or even dried.
As a general rule, whole salmon caviar is the most costly, because it is very difficult to keep the individual eggs whole and crisp. If the caviar becomes broken or crushed, it declines in value. The value is also determined by the preservation technique used, with lightly salted chilled roe being very valuable, while heavily salted compressed cakes of roe are much cheaper. Flavor, of course, is also a factor, as handling caviar requires a delicate hand.
In Japan, salmon caviar is known as ikura. In other regions of the world, it is often called “salmon caviar,” to enforce the similarities between salmon roe and sturgeon roe, the original caviar. Salmon roe can be used in a wide variety of ways, ranging from a garnish on sushi to an inclusion on a buffet with crackers and other spreads. It is traditionally eaten cold, and often eaten plain to allow the natural flavors of the roe to come through. Generally, heating of salmon caviar is not advised, as it can compromise the flavor.