I just love getting ikura sushi - those jewel-like, glistening orange balls of salty goodness are the eggs, or roe of salmon. They're delicious, sustainable, and economical. They also have a wonderful mouthfeel. Where do you buy it and what do you do with it?
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch ranks it as a "Best Choice" in sustainability. Ikura is the fully-ripe ovaries of salmon, and ranges from dark orange to reddish-orange in color. Before eating, the roe is cured in salt or brine.
Salmon roe can be purchased at Asian food markets or online. It tends to be cheaper when sold in Asian markets as "sushi quality;" it's more expensive when purchased as caviar from high-end stores. Sushi quality roe is sufficient enough to use as caviar. As with all caviar, never use a metal utensil to scoop or serve; always use a spoon made of plastic, bone, or wood. Metal breaks down fish eggs and alters the taste in a negative way. The individual eggs should pop open crisply when pressed against the roof of the mouth. The roe should taste fresh, salty, and slightly like fish. It should be subtly oily but not greasy.
An entire sac of ikura is called sujiko in Japanese and a skein in English. Buying an entire sujiko and then curing the roe yourself at home is much more economical than buying already-prepared ikura. Sujiko can be found at most Asian markets, or if you live in an area where there is salmon fishing, you could ask a fisherman if they would be willing to give you a skein if they come across it. Or, if you have a fishing license, you could try your hand at salmon fishing and maybe you'll catch a female full of roe.
Along with eating salmon roe in sushi, ikuradon (ikura rice bowl,) and chirashi, you can also serve it as caviar on toast points, blinys, or deviled eggs. A nice way to enjoy ikuradon is to marinate the ikura in equal parts of soy sauce, mirin, and sake for a few days in the fridge, and then serve it over rice. They can also be used in scrambled eggs and served with crème fraîche and chives for a decadent breakfast. Salmon roe blended with mayonnaise makes a wonderful sauce for seafood or a vegetable dip.
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How To Cure Your Own Salmon Roe - a practical guide for if you've caught your own salmon and want to eat the roe
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(Image: Catalina Offshore Products