Homemade salmon caviar:
This came up during our discussion of farmed vs wild salmon. Someone encouraged me to post the details so here it is.
On the west coast, if you head down to the docks during the fall salmon season you can not only get a great deal on a whole salmon many fishermen will also often have skeins of salmon eggs. We missed the 2002 season because my dad sent us a kilo (yes a kilo!) of suziko (salted salmon eggs) form Alaska and we were somewhat burnt out on it.
In the fall of 2001 my dad was briefly working out of San Francisco (he's the captain of a small cruise ship). We're both seafood fanatics so on one of his off days we headed over to Half Moon Bay to get some fresh fish off the docks. We didn't really want a whole salmon so we negotiated with another group to split one. After having it filleted at the fish house for a nominal charge we ended up with a huge (~5lbs) salmon fillet for about $20. Actually, we stuck around to chat with the captain while the other party went to have our fish divided. Once they were comfortably out of ear shot we asked if he had any roe. He smiled and pulled out a large ziplock full of skeins. We took 3.5 lbs at $7 each.
You can't actually eat the skeins (too chewy) and unless they're very mature it's difficult to separate the eggs. The trick is to dip them in hot water and gently massage the eggs out with your fingers. Not boiling. You don't want hard boiled caviar. If the eggs change color in the water it is too hot. The connective tissue reacts with the warm water by shriveling up and allows you to (fairly) easily separate the eggs.
Once you've rinsed and picked out all the bits of connective tissue you soak them in salt water. They taste good already but they won't last very long without a good salting. The salt hardens the shells so that they won't break as easily and helps to preserve them. If you do it right the resulting caviar won't actually taste salty.
Prepare some super saturated salt water by dissolving as much salt as possible into a large pan of water. For best results use non iodized pickling salt. Allow the water to cool then add the eggs. Poor a bunch of extra salt on top for good measure. Let stand for 30 minutes. Occasionally add more salt and stir gently. When you're satisfied rinse repeatedly to remove as much salt as possible from the surface of the eggs. Drain and dry. It's difficult to dry them out properly, but it doesn't matter too much. I haven't tried to freeze them, but processed as above and kept in the fridge they'll last at least a few weeks.
Normally salmon caviar is made from Chum Salmon whose eggs have the characteristic large round shape with a small dark spot. We used roe from King Salmon which are smaller, more oval, and lack the dot. We had a jar of a commercial version for comparison and everyone agreed that ours where better. Even if the Chum Salmon eggs are naturally superior I think the freshness probably adds a lot.
I think that we've been making suziko. I'm guessing that the difference between suziko and ikura is the level of salting but I'm not sure. Would anyone with a better command of Japanese care to fill me in on the difference here? Do either of these terms imply an exact species of salmon?
In the picture you can see some color variation. We kept the eggs from each skein separate through most of the processing. In the end we just mixed them all together since we couldn't detect a difference in taste between the colors.