Caviar, although plentiful and in abundance not too long ago, has become rare, expensive and at times almost unattainable. The century old traditions of catching and preserving the roe of sturgeon to produce caviar may only be a note in history books if we do not take care of a sustainable sturgeon supply now. Caviar is also a very fragile and delicate product and needs to be served and treated with the utmost respect for its unique flavour. Caviar is worth a celebration and deserves to be served in a celebratory manner.
Caviar is worth a celebration and deserves to be served in a celebratory manner.
From storage to the table
Fresh caviar (only salt is added to the sturgeon roe) in general comes in metal tins, while pasteurized caviar often comes in glass jars with a metal lid. Caviar is usually served straight out of the tin it has been packaged in; both as a quality assurance as well as for identification purposes as to the type of caviar that is to be served.
Caviar should be stored at 28-32F (-2 to 0 C) and needs to be brought gradually to serving temperature before serving. Normal household refrigerators are not cold enough, and caviar can never been frozen. It is perhaps the best to buy the caviar as close to the serving time as possible and then store the tin at a lower shelf in the back of the fridge where the cooling unit is located. Place the still sealed caviar on a cold plate (perhaps in the refrigerator) for about 10 to 15 minutes to let it gradually come to a serving temperature of 46F (8 C). Place the caviar in the tin on a mount of crushed ice and serve immediately; removing the lid of the tin, at the table in front of our guests and placing it on the side for the guest to see.
There seems to be a debate of whether metal spoons should be used to eat or scoop the caviar. While metals such as silver, copper or brass may oxidize with caviar and give the caviar a metallic taste, polished stainless steel spoons perhaps would be safe. Some may argue that the caviar is stored in metal tins, and therefore it is ok to use metal utensils for serving the product as well, but caviar is a product for special occasion and celebrations and demands also special attention while serving, including the cutlery used. Wooden utensils are less suitable due to their brittle nature and in terms of presentation they do not offer a contrast to the dark grey caviar pearls. Tortoise or bone utensils as used years ago are very rare and mostly illegal now. Gold as the only acceptable metal is certainly great but expensive. Glass spoon are suitable as well, but somehow less classy. Mother of pearl is generally accepted to be elegant, special and suit perfectly for a rare and extraordinaire product such as caviar.
Enjoying caviar and serving suggestions
There are no strict rules to follow or standards to be adhered to when eating caviar. Just as the saying “different folks, different strokes” goes, there are variations and regional habits when eating caviar. Whatever way works best for you is great. If you are looking for new and better ways to enjoy caviar, then perhaps the following notes may be helpful or at least worth a try:
- Caviar should be delicately spooned out of the serving container. The delicate pearls need to stay intact and should never break or mush. For the same reason, caviar should never be “stirred” or forked, to separate the pearls, good quality caviar pearls are loose enough to be scooped easily from the tin.
- When eating the caviar, the granules should be broken on your palate so the full flavour can develop.
- Caviar purists like to scoop a dollop of caviar onto the back of their hand (in-between the thumb and the index finger) and eat it straight from there.
- It is considered a “sin” to top caviar with too many additional flavors. The acidity of lemon and pungent taste of shallots or onion overpower the taste of caviar and as such are considered unsuitable additives.
- Russians like to serve caviar with Blinis (small buckwheat flour pancakes). A little sour cream is spread onto the warm pancakes, and then topped with the caviar. Serve chilled (ice cold) unflavored vodka with this way of serving.
- In the continental cuisine, chopped shallots, egg yolk, egg white and parsley as well as lemon and thin lightly toasted white bread (Melba toast) are served as condiments with caviar.
- A well-chilled champagne or brut sparkling wine or a full-bodied dry white wine is generally served with caviar.
- Caviar sometimes is also served on warm marble potatoes. The potatoes are cooked skin on, then the inside is scooped out with melon baller. A little sour cream is added into the potato before and topped with caviar.
- Caviar also makes an excellent garnish to cold soups such as chilled cream of cauliflower, potato or the traditional Vichyssoise.
Cooking with caviar
In general the taste of caviar diminishes rapidly when heated and it is therefore not very suitable for cooking purposes. If however one wants to make a caviar sauce with a fish or similar, the caviar needs to be added and gently mixed with the finished sauce just ahead of serving, so the roe will not be “cooked” and the delicate flavour of the caviar can be preserved as much as possible. Once the caviar is added to a sauce, the sauce should never be reheated or boiled anymore, but served immediately. If caviar is used to make canapés, it should not be spread but rater scooped onto the canapé. This is to ensure the delicate pearls stay intact for the full enjoyment when later eating it.