“A court chef was once asked what he considered the greatest delicacy of all foods, and his selection was the soft roe of a herring – properly dealt with”
F L Griggs, Food and Drink: A Paper Read Before the Campden Branch of the Women’s Institute, 1938
What actually are herring roes?
Sometimes known as ‘melts’, soft herring roes are the creamy, rich roes of male herring. 2014 was a bad year for them, and tinned roes may still be difficult to find. But for the moment soft herring roes are incredibly good value.
What to eat herring roes with
If you’re feeling saintly you can accompany it with a green salad – something fresh and peppery – maybe iceberg lettuce with cucumber and rocket, or with green beans and roasted tinned potatoes. Otherwise you can simply assuage your need for something healthy (although you don’t need to since the roes themselves are full of Vitamin D) by being extra generous with the parsley.
Recipe for soft herring roes on sourdough toast
- 100g/4 oz soft herring roes – you can buy them fresh at Waitrose, or order from your fishmonger, or you can buy tinned ones at Sainsbury’s
- 1 lemon wedge – this is important, and it does make a difference using fresh lemon rather than the stuff in the plastic lemon
- A generous amount of chopped fresh, flat-leaved parsley (the flat-leaved type has a bit more flavour)
- A pinch of cayenne (a generous pinch if you like your food hot). It’s very good with cayenne, but if you don’t like your food too hot you can substitute for Spanish sweet smoked paprika
- Smoked salt
- 1 tbsp of panko breadcrumbs (or you can simply dust with flour)
- Butter to fry and spread
- 1 slice of sourdough bread (this is ideal as it tends to get less soggy than other types of bread)
- Get the toast going (if you have an aga, make it on the aga, it is so much better)
- Heat some butter in a small frying pan, don’t let it burn
- Coat the roes in the breadcrumbs and begin frying
- Add the cayenne and the salt
- Cook until golden, three or four minutes
- Butter the toast, top with the roes, sprinkle over the chopped parsley and serve with a lemon wedge
What inspired me to write a post about herring roes, and why is this recipe a crime writers’ one?
A couple of years ago, pursuing my ambition to one day write a detective novel, I went up to the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.
It was stuffed full of interesting lectures and workshops, but for me the highlight was the session with Val McDermid interviewing Professor Sue Black.
Sue Black is a lady of formidables. Formidable razor-sharp, quick intellect, formidable determination… and formidable physique – a generously proportioned red headed Scot. She’s a forensic anthropologist (helping to identify decomposed or mutilated bodies) and current Director of the Centre for International Forensic Assistance. She raises funds for the Centre in part by calling on all the favours she has done her friends and acquaintances in the crime writing world, furnishing them with medical details – a recent project, for example, involved the authors in auctioning off the naming of characters in their books and donating the proceeds to the centre.
Val Mcdermid is, of course, a famous crime writer and also a lady of formidables. And they are all the same as Sue Black’s except that she is white-haired. Both women also have in common a wicked sense of humour and a long friendship. The session was one of the funniest comedy sit-downs I have been lucky enough to attend, they ribbed each other mercilessly and with great wit, making full use of the black opportunities afforded by the professions of both….one story involved an unsuspecting member of staff inadvertently coming upon an experiment involving the reinflation of the lungs of corpses….
The Festival is held in Harrogate, a Yorkshire town I’ve been visiting on and off for exhibitions and conferences for many years. Whenever I have the time I escape from the stands and lectures to the antique halls … and to the Drum and Monkey.
The Drum and Monkey is an informal bare-floorboards type of bistro which specialises in British seafood. At the time I went, still chortling delightedly to myself remembering the verbal quips and parries of the titanic ladies, the restaurant had just changed hands. They had soft herring roes on the menu which, like omelettes, liver and consommé, is a good test of the skill of the chef. The dish that arrived was excellent.
This recipe produces a very similar result. At the Drum and Monkey I had it with buttered spinach.
There is also a wonderful recipe for a creamed herring roe (which you serve with a poached egg and snipped spring onions) on Jack Monroe’s excellent blog.
As well as being formidable, Sue Black also has also made a cracking good selection for Desert Island Discs – which I give below for you to enjoy as you cook and eat these delicious little fishy morsels.
The crime writer, Chris Longmuir, was also in the audience, and she has very kindly supplied me with the featured photograph for which I am most grateful, and so….
…this post is dedicated to Chris Longmuir
And here is Sue Black’s Castaway of the Week selection:
- Ye Jacobites by Name; performed by The Corries
2. In The Mood; performed by Glenn Miller
3. Baker Street; performed by Gerry Rafferty
4. Romeo and Juliet; performed by Dire Straits
5. Winter; performed by Love and Money
6. Blaw na Gael – not on YouTube
7. If I could turn back time: performed by Cher
8. Turn Around; performed by Nanci Griffith