Salmon eggs are safe to be eaten as long as you are not eating the type that has been processed into fish bait.
Fish eggs such as those from salmon however can be easily and safely processed into caviar and are safe to eat. For high quality products the egg sacs should be carefully removed from the fish at the place of catch, put into plastic bags and then packed into ice.
Caviar can be made from the eggs of a number of fish, salmon just being one of the few. It can also be made from the eggs of mullet, herring, sturgeon, steelhead, striped bass and shad. However, it should also be noted that the eggs of Cabazon are poisonous and should never be eaten.
When eating caviar a few rules one should follow to ensure that food-borne illness, etc. does not occur are as follows:
- Always use fresh eggs that are less than 24 hours old. A heavy oily aroma is natural, however if any other odor of spoilage is present these eggs should be disposed of and not used for caviar.
- Gently remove individual eggs from the sacs (skein) and place them into a bowl. You will most likely get about 1-1/2 cups of eggs from a ½ pound skein. As you pick out the eggs, remove and discard the pieces of membrane, blood and its of intestine and black skin.
- For each 1 or 2 cups of cleaned eggs, add ½ cup of salt to 2 cups cold water in a large bowl and then stir until salt is dissolved.
- Pour eggs into brine. Swirl the eggs and let them stand for 30 minutes to become firm and absorb the salt. Remove any membrane pieces that you find.
- Pour caviar into a strainer and rinse in cold water then drain. Pick out any remaining membrane pieces.
- Caviar should always be stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and can be kept for several weeks or as long as the flavor remains pleasant.
- Serve caviar chilled. Nest the serving bowl in a larger bowl of crushed ice. Some even prefer to serve with un-salted crackers or toast spread with sweet butter or sour cream.
Salmon eggs that are processed into fish bait are NOT edible and must only always be used as fish bait! Depending on the stage of maturity, salmon eggs may be in “loose” or “tight” skeins when taken from the fish. Eggs in loose skeins have reached the stage where they can be readily separated from the membrane without any special treatment. They are great for being preserved as single salmon eggs. Eggs in tight skeins can be used in preparation for making cluster egg baits.
Fish bait can either be made from fresh or frozen salmon eggs. Fast freezing at -10 degrees to -30 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial for maintaining the original appearance, texture and odor of the eggs. To package them for freezing one can wrap them doubled up in plastic freezer wrap or even seal them in plastic bags which help to exclude any air. If salmon eggs are exposed to air during the frozen stage, dehydration and oxidation has been found to change their color, consistency, odor, and even makes them unfit to be used as bait. Thawing eggs at room temperature before processing them into bait is best.
To preserve eggs clusters many fisherman have been known to commonly use powdered borax to toughen them up and preserve their appearance. Doing so also helps prevent the growth of bacteria. These toughened clusters stay on the hook longer than fresh ones. Preparing eggs with borax is a simple process that takes very little time.
The first step one must take is to spread out a large sheet of paper and cover it with a thin layer or Borax powder. Then either cut the skeins of the eggs into bait sized pieces with a pair of scissors or use your hands to pull them apart along the natural connective tissue cleavage lines. Place the eggs clusters onto the borax covered paper and thoroughly dust them with additional borax powder. Afterwards let them stand in a cool, dry place for 12 to 36 hours. After the egg clusters have reached desired firmness, pack them in a wide-mouth jar that is equipped with airtight seals for storage. This cluster of eggs can be used as bait and refrigerated for a few weeks. It can also be frozen in jars for longer storage times.
Fishermen in all parts of the country have been known to also use single salmon eggs for bait. This process takes little time and effort and the only requirements are reasonably large salmon eggs and the proper care before preparing.
The first step in preserving single eggs is to separate them from their membranes by immersing them in water at a temperature of 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and then manipulating the egg mass by hand. The membrane coagulates at this temperature making the eggs easier to separate without causing much damage.
Some materials need to prepare single salmon eggs include
- Preservative bath: 1 part commercial (40 percent) formalin (available at most drug stores) to 20 parts water at about 90° F.
- Dye (if red eggs are desired): 1/4 teaspoon of powdered Safranin-O (available at many drug stores) dissolved in 2 quarts of water.
- Neutralizing-fixing bath: 8 tablespoons of sodium bisulfate (available from photo supply stores and some drug stores) dissolved in 1 gallon of water at 60°F.
- Glycerin: add 6 drops 40 percent formalin per ounce of glycerin.
- Fish-attracting flavors: flavors, such as anise, may be added to glycerin
One can then immerse single eggs in the preservative bath for 30 to 45 minutes. Processing times can vary depending upon the characteristics of the egg. Processing small batches until you obtain the correct treatment for the eggs is a good rule of thumb to follow during this process. Removing single eggs from the formalin solution while they are still soft but have no trace of liquid center when sliced in half is also best. The fixing and glycerin treatments will have an additional firming effect upon the eggs. It should be noted that eggs left in the bath for too long will become rubbery and undesirable for bait.
To dye your eggs you can dip them in the dye solution for a few minutes. It is thought that brighter colored eggs have a better chance of attracting fish. The degree of redness depends on the strength of the dye solution and the length of time they are immersed for. When the eggs reach the desired color range, rinse them with water.
The next step is to immerse the eggs in the neutralizing-fixing bath for 20 to 30 minutes. This is done to neutralize any further action of the formalin and also prevents undue hardening of the eggs from taking place later during storage.
Lastly, drained and place the eggs in a screw-cap jar for storage. Do not rinse the eggs or allow the surface of the eggs to dry before sealing them. Make sure that you pour enough glycerin mixture into the jar to moisten them but also taking care not to cause a noticeable accumulation at the bottom of the jar. Eggs treated this way can be kept for a few weeks in a warm room and may also be stored for over a year in a refrigerator.