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How Salmon In U.S. Can Yield Caviar Without The Guilt

A dish of cured salmon roe, or caviar. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

A dish of cured salmon roe, or caviar. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Every morning during the fall in Michigan’s thumb, I watch sport fishermen skimming by in boats outfitted with everything from baited poles to fancy outriggers. They are all after the same thing: salmon. Whether the catch is Atlantic, chinook or coho, it doesn’t much matter as long as they reel one in. Some have a knack for it, some get lucky, some just enjoy a quiet morning on the lake. But I like it most of all when someone brings a fish heavy with roe (or eggs) to my home, because it means we will get two treats out of one catch: caviar and a couple of smoked filets.

 Caviar is a slippery subject in more than one way. On one hand, it is the simplest of food experiences: a delicate hint of fish enveloped in a salty brine that slides down your throat with no effort at all. On the other hand, it is an ingredient that suffers from guilt by association with extravagance.

Prized specimens from the endangered beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea have been illegal for sale in the United States since 2005. Certain lesser grades like sevruga and osetra are available but can be astronomically pricey, at over $4,000 per pound. But fresh eggs from locally caught salmon in the Great Lakes are quite a different matter. Few fishermen bother to save these precious jewels. Fewer still know how simple it is to cure the eggs and prepare fresh caviar. So you can understand why I felt a little giddy when I got my hands on a recent 10-pound catch with two skeins of roe that yielded 2 pounds of beautifully glistening eggs.

The process for transforming the eggs into caviar is deceptively simple and takes about an hour. It involves little more than preparing salt brine and biding your time. Once the eggs are brined to a level that won’t overpower their delicate fish essence, they are ready to serve and share. All that remains is to offer a simple cracker with a smear of sour cream, a mound of cured eggs and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and chopped chives, or just a stunning spoonful to your grateful guests, and dig in.

A salmon belly full of fresh roe. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

A salmon belly full of fresh roe.
Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Great Lakes Salmon Caviar


Fresh salmon roe (eggs) (see Note)

1 cup of kosher salt

8 cups of cold water

1. Place the salt and cold water in a large glass or stainless bowl and mix well until salt is dissolved.

2. Gently rinse each egg sac under cool running water to remove as much blood as possible and lower into the salted brine. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. While the eggs are curing, prepare a second bowl fitted with a colander.

4. After 30 minutes, remove the sacs from the refrigerator and place them in the second bowl and colander in a deep sink, reserving the brine.

5. Cover the eggs with hot running tap water (approximately 150 degrees). As the outer membrane is exposed to the heat, it will shrink and begin to pull away from the eggs, making it simple to gentle slough the eggs away from the membrane and into the colander. Within the sac will be threads of more membranes that can be carefully removed by hand.

6. Once the outer membrane is removed and the eggs are separated, continue to refresh the bowl with cool water and stir the eggs, gently rinsing them by hand to remove the smaller white membranes that will float to the surface and may still cling to the eggs. Drain and repeat the rinsing process until the water in the bowl runs clear. This may require several rinses. Remove the colander from the bowl, draining the clear water away from the eggs.

7. Return the eggs to the original salt brine and refrigerate for up to another 30 minutes. Check the eggs at 10-minute intervals, rinsing and tasting the eggs for your desired level of saltiness. Continue to brine if not salty enough. If too salty, replace the brine with fresh water and let the eggs rest. The water will draw out salt until the eggs reach your desired level of brine.

8. Drain the eggs from the brine and store in a clean glass container with tightly fitting lid. Caviar can be served immediately or safely stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.


Salmon roe can be tricky to find if you don’t know a sport fisherman in salmon territory. Try making friends with a fishmonger instead, or check online purveyors.

Top photo: A dish of cured salmon roe, or caviar. Credit: Caroline J. Beck 

Zester Daily contributor Caroline J. Beck is a freelance food and wine writer and a strategic adviser to specialty food startups. Her articles and columns have appeared in such publications as the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, Michigan BLUE -- Michigan's Lakestyle Magazine, and The Olive Oil Source, the world's top-ranked olive oil-related website, where she has served as editor since 2007. Beck's website,, provides common sense advice for enthusiastic entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the specialty foods business.

  • carole 10·22·13

    Thanks for the info. Will have to tr this. Love salmon roe but don’t want to pay the price. I live in Japan where it can be bery pricey. The egg sacs can be purchased at a much more reasonable price. Here they are soaked in soy sauce or in brine. I have a question about the hot water method. At that high of a temperature, the eggs won’t cook or turn a bit opaque? What is the time limit when it comes to leaving the sacs in the hot water to remove the membrane?

  • Caroline J. Beck 10·24·13

    Carole – Thanks for your interest in my article. Of course, soy sauce is a perfectly acceptable substitute to salt brine, but will add a slightly smokier taste to the caviar. You are right about hot water turning the eggs a bit opaque, but it will not cook them. The water should be hot enough to shrink the membrane and not be too hot for your hands to handle the eggs. Once the membrane and individual sheathings are removed, the eggs will turn back from opaque to a glistening shine. This is a natural part of the process. Good luck with it. I hope you’ll get a real satisfaction from creating your own caviar.

  • Caroline J. Beck 10·24·13

    I didn’t answer your question about time. The membrane will shrink almost immediately when exposed to the hot water, so it does not have to soak in the hot water to start to release the eggs. The rinsing process might take five minutes to complete, but you will be able to judge total time when you see the water run clear of any small white pieces.