Variety

Spawning a taste for caviar

Michael Swamy | Updated on September 07, 2011

Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, Tabasco and caviar at WD-50 restaurant in New York, U.S., on Aug. 8, 2009. Wylie Dufresne is the chef. Photographer: Takahiko Marumoto/WD-50 via Bloomberg EDITOR'S NOTE: NO SALES. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.+SEP+Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, Tabasco and caviar at WD-50 restaurant in New York, U.S., on Aug. 8, 2009. Wylie Dufresne is the chef. Photographer: Takahiko Marumoto/WD-50 via Bloomberg EDITOR'S NOTE: NO SALES. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. - Caviar 3   -  BUSINESS LINE

University of Georgia branded Premium Siberian Sturgeon caviar is displayed for a photo on the school's campus in Athens, Georgia, U.S., on Oct. 22, 2009. The caviar is produced by Doug Peterson, an associate professor at the school, who's tapping the football rivalry with the University of Florida to help build a caviar industry in Georgia. A tin costs $58 for 30 grams. Photographer: Michael Buteau/Bloomberg+SEP+University of Georgia branded Premium Siberian Sturgeon caviar is displayed for a photo on the school's campus in Athens, Georgia, U.S., on Oct. 22, 2009. The caviar is produced by Doug Peterson, an associate professor at the school, who's tapping the football rivalry with the University of Florida to help build a caviar industry in Georgia. A tin costs $58 for 30 grams. Photographer: Michael Buteau/Bloomberg - Caviar 2   -  BUSINESS LINE

Lobster caviar sliders on mini brioche buns are arranged for a photo at the Libertine, a restaurant in the Gild Hall Hotel at 15 Gold Street in New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. The restaurant is the latest venue for Todd English, a James Beard Award-winning chef who has 21 global restaurants. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News+SEP+Lobster caviar sliders on mini brioche buns are arranged for a photo at the Libertine, a restaurant in the Gild Hall Hotel at 15 Gold Street in New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. The restaurant is the latest venue for Todd English, a James Beard Award-winning chef who has 21 global restaurants. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News - Caviar 1   -  BUSINESS LINE

Luxury doesn't get any smaller! Once the food of royalty, caviar is now a dish that has become synonymous with luxury. But what is it about the exotic caviar that puts it right up the gourmet charts? Let's take a look.

Caviar consists of the non-fertilised eggs of three species of sturgeon fish in the Caspian Sea, which have been salted and allowed to mature. The word is derived from the Italian term ‘caviale', which is in turn a derivative of the Turkish word ‘havyar'. Mentioned as early as 1432 in the French Renaissance writer Rabelais' “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, caviar is described as the choice hors d'oeuvre. Caviar was introduced to France in the 1920s following the exile of Russian princes. Charles Ritz then formally launched caviar as a luxury item by placing it permanently on the menu of his hotel.

Varieties of caviar

The types of caviar available are as follows:

Beluga: The largest of the sturgeon species, the eggs are light to dark grey in colour with large granules and delicate skin.

Osetra: The rarest of the sturgeon species whose eggs are dark brown to golden in colour with large granules and delicate skin. This is sometimes referred to as Royal Caviar.

Sevruga: The eggs of this species are smaller with a fine dark grey colour.

Roe from salmon is cheaper; prized for its decorative qualities and flavour, these large red eggs are a delicacy and not as expensive as caviar. The Golden Whitefish caviar has a delicate flavour and is used primarily as a garnish for many gourmet dishes. American caviar, though cheaper and obtained from the Atlantic sturgeon, is slowly making inroads into the luxury market. The term for top quality caviar is malossol which means "little salt" in Russian, as caviar is salted to keep it fresh.

Malossol treatment allows the flavour of the eggs to stimulate the palate while retaining the freshness of the eggs for up to three months. Some of the best caviar comes from the Caspian Sea near Iran and Russia. The seed-like black eggs may look tiny but are packed with flavour. Simply sieved, the roe is raw but nowadays, can also be pasteurised.

A little goes a long way

When faced with the prospect of buying caviar, one must decide on the amount of caviar needed. A serving of caviar is only 4 tsp per person, which is about 14 gm. This may seem too miniscule a portion but at social gatherings it is considered bad taste to consume more than an ounce.

The fragile texture of caviar calls for gently spooning it out of the jar. Single grains are often lifted with the tip of the knife. Caviar can even be gently strained with cold water using a tiny strainer but must then be consumed almost immediately.

The drawback to using metal implements is that the roe imbibes a slight metallic flavour. Instead, one can use spoons made of bone or mother of pearl to measure out caviar. The art of lifting caviar out of the jar is to hold the spoon vertically and carefully.

Savouring caviar

As far as the taste of caviar goes, some may find it extremely salty. Therefore, the best way to eat this dish is with bland food like blinis, which are small, Russian-style pancakes with a dash of sour cream.

When served in glass bowls placed over ice to preserve it longer, one can spread caviar over buttered toast. One can also squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Caviar is extremely perishable and must therefore be refrigerated until it is consumed.

Some of the beverages that go well with caviar are ice cold shots of vodka or bubbly champagne. So the next time you have a bit of caviar, enjoy the flavour and always keep the proportion in mind.

Published on September 07, 2011

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