So you finally had a big day on the river and you killed a couple of hatchery hens. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but back home on the fillet table, you end up with a pile of eggs and a set of so-so fillets that you’ll either smoke or give away to your neighbors. Let’s face it: winter hens aren’t the best eating. By late February they’ve put all their body fat into egg production. Even the brightest hens can cut pale, leading to regrets and sometimes waste.
But I have great news for you. With a little effort, you can convert that pile of eggs and fish into a feast fit for a king. No more calling your bait-chucker buddy to come and pick up the eggs. No more smoking fish to make it palatable. No more giving away fillets to people you think won’t know any better. Yes, I’ve done all those things, too. But once you’ve tried these recipes, you’ll have a new appreciation for those amazing egg-wagons known as winter hens.
Most Oregonians aren’t big on caviar. It’s an acquired taste, no doubt. But if you like sushi, chances are you will like fresh caviar. This is not the over-salted sticky stuff you buy in stores, or that is served up as “ikura” in sushi bars. That stuff smells and tastes like Pautzke’s Balls-o-Fire. Fresh caviar is nothing like that. If you’ve never had it fresh–within 2 or three days of being made–you owe it to yourself to seek it out. And of all the caviar available to us here in Oregon, I consider steelhead to be the best of all.
What you’ll need:
Smooth cutting board
Large mixing bowl
1.5 cups salt (no iodine)
Before you begin making caviar, you will need to prepare a super-saturated salt solution. Place 2 quarts of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add all the salt and stir until dissolved. Turn off heat and take saucepan outside to cool. This is usually a good time to have a shot of vodka (with friends, of course).
Now for the time consuming work: separating the eggs from the skein. Place a skein egg-side down on a smooth cutting board. Using a spoon held upside down, gently pull two to three eggs at a time away from the connecting tissue. Russians say it takes a woman’s touch, because guys tend to be too rough and impatient. You’ll see why it’s easy to get impatient once you get into it. Picking caviar is a slow, tedious process. As you pull the eggs away from the skein, look closely to make sure the eggs are free of strings–little filaments of tissue that can cling to each egg. Most of the time the eggs will separate without difficulty, with only a few stringy parts left to clean up before salting. Occasionally, though, you will come across a skein that is so stringy, it’s not worth the time it would take to clean it up. Those end up in the bait pile. Stringy caviar tastes fine, but is not as appealing as clean caviar. Plan on spending an hour or more separating the eggs from one steelhead.
Once the eggs are all separated, go through them one more time to clean up any missed strings. The cleaner the caviar, the more satisfying. Once you feel good about your eggs, slide them into the large mixing bowl. Go outside and bring in the salt solution. If it is still warm to the touch, put it in the freezer or fridge until it is room-temperature or cooler. Once cooled, pour the saltwater into the bowl full of eggs, leaving any residual salt in the bottom of the saucepan.
Stir the eggs in the saltwater and take a look at the clock. You will only leave the eggs in the saltwater for 5 minutes–very important!! Take one minute to cut a 12″ square of cheese cloth and lay it down in a strainer. I usually double it up to keep the mesh tight. Stir the eggs a couple more times until the 5 minutes are up. Then, slowly pour the eggs and saltwater into the strainer. Finally, gather the edges of the clothand tie them off lightly so you can hang the bag to drain.
Let drain for 10 minutes, then serve. Serving suggestion: thin-sliced french bread or baguette, a little soft butter, and a healthy scoop of caviar.
Caviar is not for everyone, which is fine, because I don’t really like to share. But this recipe is for anyone who likes fish. It is the greatest fish recipe in the world, because it can take even the most pale, unattractive salmon or steelhead fillet and turn it into gold. And if you start with a great fillet of fish, it will be all the better.
You will need:
One large onion skinned and quartered
Two medium potatoes skinned and quartered
One steelhead, filleted, skinned and cut into chunks
1/2 to 3/4 pound pork fat, cut into chunks
One bunch fresh baby dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peanut oil
Large frying pan
Grind all ingredients (except dill and salt) into a large mixing bowl, add finely chopped dill and salt and mix thoroughly. Make into patties and fry in peanut oil until browned on both sides and well cooked. Serve with mashed potatoes and a salad, a little lemon-mayo on the side, and a scoop of steelhead caviar! It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.