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Discover Caviar: The Black Pearl of Culinary Excellence

by Nikolai Nikitenko March 15, 2016

Discover Caviar: The Black Pearl of Culinary Excellence

It may not be the most popular type of food in the United States today, but caviar has been a major delicacy throughout the world.  Officially defined as the salted roe of specific sturgeon species, the term has come to apply for roes of many other fish species.  But even with its great demand, many people do not know the history around caviar, and how to actually prepare and serve caviar properly.
 
Caviar consumption can be dated far into human history as the fourth century B.C.  Its origins go to what is now modern day Iran, where sturgeon roe was provided at banquets.  At that time, and for the majority of history caviar was very common due to the great abundance of the fish that produced the roe.  The invention of salted caviar is credited much to the Persians.  Today, when people think of caviar their minds often go towards Russia, which is credited for introducing the malosol variant of caviar.  Malosol, which in Russian means “light salt”, is literally lightly salted fresh caviar.  Even though it is not as big today, caviar was very popular in the US in the late 19th century.  Henry Schacht is credited for creating a market for caviar in the US by harvesting sturgeon native to the Americas.  Due to its abundance at the time, caviar was largely cheap and often served for free at pubs in order to influence thirst due to its saltiness, which largely impacted beer sales.  By 1910 the massive harvest of sturgeon in the US collapsed due to the near extinction of all sturgeon species in the Americas, turning caviar from a common item to an exotic substance of high price.
 
Today there is a high price for most sturgeon caviars due to the mass overfishing for these species throughout the world.  The overfishing results in low inventory, restrictions and quotas, which as a result drive the price through the roof.  This has built a major roadway for caviar alternatives.  Now technically speaking the term caviar only applies to four types of sturgeon caught in the Caspian.  But today the term is loosely used for other fish roes.  Due to the demand a market has been created for whitefish roe, paddlefish, lumpfish roe, flying fish roe and the very popular salmon roe.  All of them have their purpose, but none compare to the elegance of sturgeon caviar.
 
With its high value and image of high class, many people have the desire to try this delicacy.  The only issue is they are afraid of what the flavor will be like and they frankly have no idea what to do with it.  All well produced sturgeon caviar firstly, will not have a “fishy” taste.  The primary taste that people think of when trying sturgeon caviar is creamy.  Then depending on the species, the caviar can be slightly nutty or have a very deep and complex taste.  If properly made, the caviar should not be overly salty.  You will notice the fact that there is salt, but if it is truly malosol, then you will hardly notice any saltiness.
 
Now comes the art of caviar preparation.  In reality there are so many ways to eat caviar and it all ends with the taste and preference of each individual to decide which method they enjoy the most.  The first note to make is the tableware to use.  Never use silver to serve caviar.  Silver will quickly add extra, unwanted flavor to caviar.  If accessible it is recommended to use spoons and plates made from mother of pearl.  This will keep the caviar flavor intact and keep it from contamination.  Many caviar lovers will actually eat it by the spoonful.  It may be an expensive way to enjoy caviar, but some enjoy the texture and flavor to such an extent, that they do not want anything to “contaminate” the flavor.  A more classic way to serve caviar is to get small, unsalted toasted crackers, crème Fraiche (which is essentially sour cream that is not sour) and hardboiled eggs that have been lightly diced.  What you do is take the cracker, add a small amount of the crème Fraiche, and add a small spoonful of the caviar and sprinkle with the egg.  Then simply enjoy with a nice glass of champagne.  Being the classic method of serving caviar, it is far from the only method.  Many people love their caviar with an assortment of cheeses and throughout the world, great chefs always come up with ways to pair fine caviar with other foods to create a truly exceptional symphony of flavor.
 
Caviar is truly an exceptional culinary masterpiece.  It makes me laugh with sadness when people refer to it as bait since it is such a delicate product.  If you have never tried caviar then I invite you to reward yourself with such an experience.  With the right preparation and the right caviar, I am yet to meet someone who after trying it, has not admitted their affection towards something to exquisite.




Nikolai Nikitenko
Nikolai Nikitenko

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