Spring is here and with it comes an opportunity to live off the land a bit and enjoy some unique but tasty meals that are rarely heard of anymore.
Poor Man’s Caviar
Caviar can be extremely expensive unless you know where to get your own. Be sure to read the Poor Man’s Tarpon article to get the skinny on how to get a few shad.
Each spring, shad and herring make their spawning runs up the tidal rivers. Many are laden with eggs otherwise known as roe. Shad roe (where legal) is delicious. Be sure to consult your fishing regulations before attempting to take any shad or herring.
Roe in a fish is contained within a sac inside the belly of the fish. If you want to try roe there are a few tips to removing the roe that I can share.
First, I insert a very sharp filet knife just behind the gill plate near the pectoral fin. Make a cut straight down to the bottom of the fish. Then slice along the middle of the fish on the lateral line at the top of the rib cage.
Carve the entire belly section out. Make sure you end your cut at the anal fin of the fish to avoid busting the roe. Then carefully open up the section you cut out and remove the roe in one piece.
Another way to harvest the roe is to make the first cut behind the gills and then using game shears, snip your way along the bottom of the fish’s belly and then gently grasp the roe and tug it loose.
Roe can be cooked many ways. Some boil it and serve it on toast once it turns white. Some gently fry it and serve on or with toast. Others broil it and season with Old Bay. I prefer to lightly fry mine with olive oil and serve with toast and breakfast steak or venison sausage.
The roe is done when it is white inside. It does have a fishy taste but that is to be expected. Various sources put it high in vitamin C, B1, E, and A. The protein count is very high as well.
I suspect that many older readers have had a plate of bullfrog legs. They are good and I often wonder if the saying, “It tastes like chicken” came from the first person that ate frog legs. They really do have a chicken texture and taste. Getting your own frog legs is fun.
In the old days people would wade around a pond or marsh and gig them with a spear. Some would go frogging from a boat. Still others would use a length of bamboo and dangle a hook with a piece of red flannel in front of the frog and catch them.
I really dislike snakes, so I use a .22 pellet gun or a .22 rifle with shorts or low powered cartridges in it for them. This way I can dispatch a snake quickly.
I also found that any other method left me with a frog that was not dead and I also prefer to put animals down humanely and quickly. Shooting at water with a rifle is not that safe but with a low-powered .22 round such as the ones Aguila makes or using a .22 pellet you can safely take out frogs.
To clean your frogs, cut the legs off, use a sharp filet knife, and skin them. I put my frog legs in a bowl of saltwater and let them soak. They begin to kick due to the salt affecting their nerves so be sure and warn others about this before you put them in the fridge please!
They are most often fried after being battered in your favorite fish batter such as cornmeal. The meat is white and flakes right off the bone when they are cooked properly.
Many years ago, people would gather pokeberry shoots in the spring in some parts of the South and sell it by the bagful. Poke is the small shoots that come up or the very top (I prefer the tender shoots) of a pokeberry plant.
The berries are said to be poisonous to humans. The shoots when gathered in the spring at three to four inches tall are prepared like any other greens. I boil mine, dump the water, and bring to a boil again and put some vinegar on them. The poke shoots often have a tingly bite to the inside of the mouth but have a unique, but good taste.
They are tender when harvested young. They can be readily found at the base of dead pokeberry bushes. You can identify these by the dried stalks that are cardboard-like in appearance. When you harvest them with the intent to boil them or steam them down, be sure to get enough. They boil down in size by at least half.
Roast Whistle Pig
Whistle pigs are known by a variety of names but perhaps the best-known moniker is groundhog. These pesky rodents raid gardens and farm fields of citizens and they can really mow down a lot of plants too.
The upside is that if you have groundhogs you can begin taking them out in the early spring. I have eaten groundhogs on numerous occasions. The older ones are very tough and hard to skin.
However, the smaller ones that are the ones born in April and May, and taken in May or June are very tender, taste like a good roast, and are easier to clean. Taking a groundhog is good for the survivability of your garden.
One of the easiest ways to prepare them is to skin and quarter them. They can be slow-cooked and served with potatoes, roasted slowly and served with fresh vegetables such as poke, potatoes and a side of bread.
A .22 is perfect for taking groundhogs and headshots are the best. Being that many are shot during the summer or late spring, I strongly recommend dressing them on the spot. Use latex gloves too.
This spring be sure to try something old but yet possibly new to you. Not only will you be living off the land a bit but you will certainly have something interesting to talk to your coworkers about!