Caviar – A Mouthful of Luxury
Caviar is a food of the rich and the famous, the ones with both cash and catchet. It is the star of haute cuisine. The caviar phenomenon is not new and dates back to ancient times and has been revered ever since. It is synonymous with luxury and opulence.
Luxury is often defined as the premium one is willing to pay on the face value of a product. The luxury quotient of caviar is beyond comprehension. It has secured its place in the crème de la crème of French cuisine especially when it comes to hors d’ oeuvres. The expensive and prized varieties of caviar needs very little of any accoutrement and when topped on a bite size piece of a cracker or a toast, the unadulterated and simple taste of it can take your taste buds to heaven and back. However, caviar is most definitely an acquired taste.
Legend has it that, the Golden or the Royal caviar, sourced from sturgeons about 60 years old, was exclusively farmed for the Sheik alone in Iran. Any commoner stealing a taste of it would be severely reprimanded with a punishment which would involve even severance of limbs. Such was the might of a serving of this fishy grain sized roe.
Read on to gain a scrumptious insight about the life and times of this culinary superstar.
What is Caviar?
Caviar refers to the processed, salted and non fertilized fish roe. However, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, roe from just any fish does not qualify as caviar. To catapult into the league of the sophisticated gourmand, the roe should be sourced from a fish belonging to the Acipenseriformes species.
Traditionally, caviar is referred to the roe obtained from the wild sturgeon fish found in the Caspian or the Black sea. In certain countries, roe from fish like salmon, steel head, whitefish, trout and lumpfish also qualifies as caviar. But they are at best fake caviar or substitutes of the real thing.
The fresh row which is not fertilized and pasteurized is most sought after and priced high. Based on the quality, flavor, size and consistency of the product, prices of the Caspian Sea caviar range between 6000 Euros to 12000 Euros per Kilogram.
History of Caviar
The Greek Scholar, Aristotle, first referred to it in his writings as early as the 4th century B.C. It is said to have been first tasted in the shores of the Caspian Sea, which was a part of the Persian Empire. The word caviar comes from the Persian word “Khag-avar”. “Khag-avar” in the Persian dialect meant “Roe-generator”. During the times of the Romans, caviar was exclusively served to the royals. The wealthy Iranian Shahs too would indulge in this delicacy.
Where is Caviar found?
Caviar mostly came from the wild sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea and the neighboring Black Sea. Caspian Sea is a body of water flanked by the countries Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. It is home to seven species of the sturgeon fish which yield caviar. There are about 400 different known species of the sturgeon but only three of them –the Beluga, Oscierte and Sevruga are used to source the most expensive caviar.
Types of Caviar
Traditionally, Caviar is of four types. The different types of Caviar are as follows:
- The Golden or Royal Caviar: It is rarely found and is the most expensive one. In ancient times, it was consumed only by a privileged few. The origins of the Royal Caviar is traced to the Oscierte Sturgeons that are over 60 years old. The color is a pale golden yellow and it has a velvety, rich and smooth taste.
- The Oscierte Sturgeon Caviar: This caviar comes in a variety of sizes, colors and taste. The caviar sourced from the young fish would have a darker golden hue and would be bigger in size. As the fish ages, the caviar becomes lighther in color and flavors become more subtle.
- The Beluga Sturgeon Caviar: Also known as Huso Huso, the beluga sturgeon is extremely rare and is a carnivore. The caviar is big in size with fine shells. The caviar is almost the size of peas and is soft to the bite. The color ranges from pale silver grey to black. The beluga sturgeons, from which this type of caviar is obtained is extremely rare and the number caught annually hardly surpasses 100.
- The Sevruga Sturgeon Caviar: The Sevruga sturgeon caviar is rather fine grained and has a greyish black hue. It is also saltier to the palate when compared to the other varieties. The Sevruga sturgeons are also more common than the other variety. Hence, it is relatively cheaper.
However, with the dwindling sturgeon population due to environmental issues, overfishing etc in the Caspian Sea, a lot of cheaper substitutes of caviar has come into the foray. Paddlefish, lumpfish, whitefish and salmon roe are becoming increasingly popular. They do not come even close to the texture, flavor or taste of the real Caspian Sea Caviar.
How to buy Caviar?
A few tips on how to go about buying caviar can be especially useful for a rookie gourmand.
- Please be informed that fresh beluga caviar is no longer permitted to be sold in the United States. This was done to conserve the diminishing population of the beluga sturgeons in the Caspian Sea.
- Caviar is best enjoyed fresh and minimally processed. It is lightly salted with a salt known as Malossol to prevent freezing. They mostly come in 1 ounce tin containers. Look for the term “Malossol” behind the tin.
- Beluga caviar comes in blue tin packs, Osetra in yellow and Sevruga in red.
- They are extremely perishable and have a shelf life of only 3-4 weeks.
- Once opened, it lasts only about 3 days if refrigerated properly. It is very important to ask about dates when you are buying caviar.
- Try buying caviar only from high end gourmet stores specializing in it. Chances are that you will not be duped with a fake version of the real thing.
- Taste before you buy to be absolutely sure that you have laid your hands on the real thing.
- In the United States, Osetra caviar costs about $90 to $140 for a one ounce tin. Sevruga caviar costs about $95 to $125 for the same.
How to serve Caviar?
- Take out the tin of caviar about 15 minutes before serving. Do not open until you are ready to serve.
- This is a delicacy which needs a special serving set. Traditionally, caviar sets are made from pearl, crystal, bone etc. Never serve them on metal as oxidation might take place. Make sure to chill the serving set prior to use.
- Always serve them in a bed of crushed ice, which can prevent them from going bad while being served. It should not be kept in the open for more than one hour.
- Serve it in individual portions. A classic hors d’ oeuvre would be a blini (small bite sized pancake) topped with smoked salmon, creme fraiche, fresh dill and a small spoonful of the best caviar.
- In Russia, ice cold vodka is served as a classic drink to wash down the caviar with. Champagne or a milder dry white wine would go well too.
The holidays are here, the time to entertain and be a social butterfly. Try serving caviar to your choicest guests and have them raving about it for days.