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Eat Feature

Eggs and Bacon, Please, With Eggs

Acquiring a Taste for the Chesapeake's Answer to Caviar

John Ellsberry

Eat Special Issue 2004

Home Sweet, Tasty Home Few things give us that feeling of being warm, cozy, comfy, and cared for like our home--unless of c...

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Eat 2004

By Van Smith | Posted 2/25/2004

"I don't care for it myself," says Richard St. Pierre, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's premier expert on American shad, on the salty subject of eating that species' eggs, known as shad roe. Many a Chesapeake Bay epicure would assiduously disagree with St. Pierre, whose office in Harrisburg, Pa., is right on the Susquehanna River, the Bay's main-stem tributary.

Each spring, scads of shad--many of them females swollen with two egg sacs, carrying hundreds of thousands of eggs each--run upriver past Harrisburg, having been helped over the big dams along the way by fish ladders and elevators. It's an annual rite of passage that, because taking shad in Maryland and Virginia is prohibited, brings many anglers to the Pennsylvania and New York portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where they can catch, cook, and eat shad--and shad roe--fresh from the river.

"It's the best thing since sliced bread for those who like it," St. Pierre adds. "A delicacy, so to speak, like caviar is. Maybe I've never had it really well-prepared. It seems that frying it with eggs and bacon is a favorite, but it's never been anything I would want to spend money on. I have fishermen friends on the Hudson River who get $4 a set for the roe sacs, and then a dish goes for about $15 in a restaurant. So, you know, it's the delicacy thing. People pay for it. I won't. Then again, is an ounce of sturgeon caviar worth a hundred dollars? At least it's not that expensive."

The first pink oblong sets of shad roe start arriving in Maryland seafood markets and restaurants in early February, when the shad run begins in Florida. The season continues until late April or early May, as shad runs, sparked by the arrival of spring temperatures, hit successive rivers to the north. John Hatfield, the proprietor of the Valley Inn, a historic Falls Road establishment in Brooklandville that--along with Maison Marconi, downtown on West Saratoga Street--is a favorite for roe connoisseurs and serves roe all season long. Like St. Pierre, Hatfield is not a fan--"I could be driving down the road, see a sign that says, shad roe free, and not even stop," he says--but its popularity among his patrons is steady.

"Every year it's a big item for us--people come from all over the place to eat this stuff," Hatfield observes. The Inn charges in the neighborhood of $19 for a shad-roe entrée, and its preparation is quite simple: "We bake it in the oven at about 400 [degrees] with a piece of bacon on top of it, and when the bacon's done, the roe's done," he explains.

Otterbein resident Elizabeth Moser, a local poet, recently won the Potomac Review's annual poetry contest for a piece titled "No Roe Today" (www. montgomerycollege. edu/ potomacreview/moser. html), which bemoans the falling interest in shad roe at a local seafood market--an establishment she won't name, for fear of offending the owners. "I love to eat shad roe," Moser says, adding that its seasonal aspect is a blessing. "It's got horrible cholesterol levels and all that, so it's a good thing that you can't have it all year long. But it's a Maryland delicacy, and I've been eating it since I was little in Baltimore--and I'm definitely not little anymore." She likes it cooked until it's crisp, with onions.

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