Saturday, 10 March 2012

Caviar and Cod Roe

My first visit to Russia took place in 1988. It was towards the end of the Breshnev period when the Communist party still had a firm grip on the levers of power. The visit took place in the middle of a cold grim winter which enhanced the sense of stagnation  that pervaded everything. Nothing seemed to work and the Western idea of service was non-existent. In addition I was on a mission impossible. I was a new Chemicals Marketing Manager for my ICI Division, sent there to negotiate a technology and sales deal dreamt up at head office in London. The truth was that the technology didn't really work very well and ICI didn't have much capacity to sell them the chemical they wanted. On top of that my Russian contact told me that if he didn't get a deal he would be sent to Siberia, so no pressure there.The shining light in the unremitting gloom was the opportunity to dine at very exclusive hard currency restaurants that catered for approved foreign businessmen. That was tempered slightly by the fact that the menu was always the same. Piles of caviar to start, washed down with sweet bubbly. I had always wondered what caviar would taste like and since my only other fish roe experience involved the more humble cod, I had a natural basis for comparing the eggs of both species.

 I still have vivid memories of the fishing boats coming into Wick Harbour in the 1950's and 60's with large catches of cod and accompanying roe in February and can still see my mother carefully boiling the whole roe in salted water, taking great care not to burst it before slicing and frying coated in flour. Its salty fishy sweetness is a unique flavour with echoes of foie gras that for me is a true delicacy. You've guessed, I much prefer it to the product from the sturgeon. Sadly the cod has been one of the major victims of overfishing around the UK and Canada. Only Iceland, more careful with its cod than its banks, has operated a conservation policy that has maintained viable fishing stocks.
When buying the product from a fishmonger try to avoid the very large pale coloured offerings and select smaller pink ones, making sure the skin isn't burst. Boil for around half an hour in salted water  and allow to cool before slicing. It freezes well at this stage so no need to over consume.
It makes an excellent warm starter. Just coat the slices in flour and fry for a few minutes on either side until golden brown. It needs to be washed down with a delicate white, Pouilly Fume works well. Bon appetit. 

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder published by Willow Moon. E-book and papperback at and


  1. This - the recipe not the visit to Russia - revived a memory for me, Alan. My mother used to cook soft cod's roes when we were kids. I always preferred the soft to the hard roes. I think my mum simmered them in milk before frying. Delicious. Never see them these days.

    Did you do the deal? If not I wonder what happened to your Russian contact?

    1. Thanks Gill
      We're getting cod roe at the moment from Morrison's fish counter, although I seem to remember it used to be earlier in the year. Sadly,the Russian deal didn't come off and things quickly liberalised under the new Soviet regimes.In the end my contact probably got a bonus for not saddling them with a problem.
      chemical plant! Alan