As a child, fish roe was a treat. My father introduced me to the yellow mass and when he saw how much I enjoyed them, he’d give his share to me. In time, all the fish roe went to me since my brother did not care all that much for them.
By the time I was old enough to tear apart a whole fish, finding fish roe inside became a game with me. I’d pick up a fish and sort of make a wish by saying, “Sana may itlog… sana may itlog (I wish it has eggs… I wish it has eggs).” And actually finding sacs of eggs in the cavity was almost like… it was the same feeling when opening a birthday gift and finding inside something that I had been earnestly wishing for the entire year.
See, back then, I’d look for fish roe in small fish. Large fish were not as common in the market then as they are now. The sacs were two inches or shorter and that made the fish roe even more special. So small, so desirable, so treasured. I’d eat my fish first and save the roe for last. For some reason, the anticipation made them even more delicious, the experience more exciting and the moment more special.
These days, the roe of big fish is sold by the kilo as a stand-alone item. You have a 20-kilo tuna or salmon and you can just imagine how large the sacs are. The fish roe in the photos came from a huge tanigue (Spanish mackerel) — and that’s only half of one sac.
Today, I know that fish roe, or bihod as it is called in the Visayan region, and fish eggs are not the same thing IF by eggs, we mean fertilized eggs. Fish roe is a bunch of unfertilized eggs and the sacs that encase them are the ovaries. That’s why fish roe come in a pair of sacs like attached twins — a fish has two ovaries. The roe is released into the water where the unfertilized eggs wait for the sperm released into the water by the male fish to fertilize them. That’s how fish reproduce — by spawning. In the case of bony fish, the kind we eat, it’s called broadcast spawning. I didn’t know all that until recently. In fact, there are recipes in the archive for “fish eggs” soup and “fish eggs” soup with lemongrass and galangal.
To fry the fish roe, I split a sac vertically into two portions (one for me and one for Speedy). I seasoned the fish roe with salt and pepper, and then fried them, cut side down, in about two inches of very, very, very hot oil for less then three minutes — just long enough to brown the surface and make it crisp but leaving the inside barely cooked through. On the plate, I squeeze a little lemon juice over them and enjoyed them with rice topped with toasted garlic.