Small fry: cods roe tempura

Portugal once was a culinary forerunner. It's now pretty well known that Portuguese merchants introduced tempura to Japan.They were in the habit of eating fried fish during the religious seasons ("tempora")* of abstinence from meat.Living in a seafaring nation,the Portuguese don’t like to waste any part of the fish, and that includes the eggs.Inspired by the Japan / Portuguese connection and ignoring the high cholesterol warnings, I decided to try my hand at giving cods roe the tempura treatment. 
Stripped of the oil, milk and bread of the famous Greek spread, cured cod's roe can become somewhat addictive.Like Marmite, gentleman's relish and other salty spreads, it is a like-it-or-loathe-it thing. I spread mine, probably thicker than I should, on thin brown toast or use it to stuff peppers. 
In Japan most often it is grilled whole or deep-fried in the thinnest tempura batter, but I have also met these luminous sacks of fish eggs (often pollock) mashed into mayonnaise and stuffed into sushi.
If you’ve never cooked cod roe before, don’t panic – it’s one of the easiest fish dishes to get right. All you have to do is to pack them in a foil parcel and poach them in their outer membrane for 25 minutes and then remove the membrane just before serving. When purchasing them fresh from the fishmonger, they are always kept in the membrane,which looks rather like  a pair of pants.In Denmark,apparently,where cods roe is nearly as popular as in Portugal, it is rumoured that you can even hear people ordering “a pair of pants” when they’re buying it!

plain flour 100g
sunflower oil 2 tbsp
sparkling mineral water 175ml
egg white 1
oil for deep frying

smoked cod's roe 200g
breadcrumbs 170g, fresh and white
Szechuan pepper a few large pinches,(ground in a pestle and mortar) to taste
pinch piri piri chilli flakes
8 large tender spinach leaves
lemon 1
You will also need groundnut oil or sunflower oil for deep-frying and 8 cocktail sticks or short wooden skewers.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the oil and water, mix lightly, then set aside to rest. If there are lumps in it, that is fine – in fact your batter will probably be better for it.
Remove and discard the fine membrane of skin from the cod's roe and put the flesh into a bowl. Add the crumbs to the roe with the Szechuan pepper, and a pinch of piri piri chilli flakes. Shape the roe into eight small rolls about twice the diameter of a wine cork.
Place the spinach or chard leaves flat on the work surface, one at a time, removing any tough stalks as you go. Place a lump of roe on each one and roll up in the leaf, then secure with a cocktail stick or short wooden skewer.
Heat cooking oil – groundnut or sunflower – to 180C degrees. Beat the egg white until almost stiff then fold into the batter mixture. Dip parcels of the roe into the batter then straight into the hot oil. The batter should not be even slightly coloured. You want it to be light, crisp and almost white. It should only just cling to the leaf here and there.

Serve with wedges of lemon or lime.

*The word "tempura", or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word "tempora", a Latin word meaning "times", "time period" used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Fridays, and other Christian holy days when only fish was eaten. The idea that the word "tempura" may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning "to season" is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word "tempero" as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese.


  1. Coming from the possibly least sea-faring nation anywhere - Bavaria - I find the idea of cods eggs unappealing, although they look very appetising on your picture. Interesting information on tempura!


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