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Three different caviars are featured on this plate. In the center is tuna topped with wasabi. To the right is ginger — used to clear the palate. At the left is golden whitefish caviar. Sushi are accented by two kinds of caviar. The caviar on the right with a slightly greenish caste is malossol — which is lightly salted. At the left is American caviar, which is darker and has smaller grains.
By Jeff Stearns | STAFF
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Caviar can reward an adventurous palate
By Kathleen Ostrander

Caviar conjures up images of exclusive and intimate parties; of exquisite hors d'oeuvres; of crisp table linens, fine crystal and million-dollar deals consummated with a casual handshake.

The price, $35 and up for an ounce, belies its humble beginnings - in the stomach of a fish. Caviar, according to Robert's Seafood Market manager Brian Aiello, is just caviar. It needs no other description.

"Caviar is roe from a sturgeon. Any other roe has a description - like whitefish roe or salmon roe," he said. Caviar has a delicate flavor and should be paired with ingredients that won't overpower it. It is most often used as a garnish, but there are other ways to serve it.

But first, some lessons: Welcome to Caviar 101.

Four years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency banned the importation of beluga Caviar to protect the endangered sturgeon.

Caviar is sturgeon eggs that have been salted and allowed to mature. Female sturgeon are captured when they return to temperate areas to spawn. They are killed and the eggs are washed, sieved, brined, drained and packed into tins.

There are two types of caviar - grained and pressed. Fish eggs that are crushed or mushy get made into pressed. The most elusive caviar is beluga. The beluga sturgeon produces the largest grains, but they are the most fragile, and a beluga sturgeon takes 20 years to mature. It is pearly gray with a smooth, mildly sweet taste.

Osetra is the best quality available now. The female Osetra takes about 15 years to mature. Osetra has more even grains and may even be gold. It has a strong nutty flavor.

Native to the Caspian Sea, Osetra is usually the best quality, which is available. Osetra produces an even roe, which has a golden hue. Its strong nutty flavor of the deep sea provides a mild taste.

Sevruga is the smallest and most prolific caviar producer. Taking seven years for the female Sevruga to mature, Sevruga produces caviar, that is dark gray or black in color and with a stronger taste. Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga all haunt the Caspian Sea.

Although American sturgeon caviar is considered inferior, it can be used as a substitute.

"There is no denying the texture of caviar can be off-putting to some," warned Aiello. The eggs should be firm, not soft and mushy. The texture is not like tapioca, more like pomegranate. Caviar should not have a strong fishy or oily taste. It does have a fish taste - but not a fishy taste. Whitefish caviar is firmer than sturgeon roe to the point of almost being crunchy. There's also paddlefish caviar, hackleback caviar, bowfin and trout caviar.

The best Caspian caviar is labeled malassol, Russian for "little salt." The size of the caviar is stated on the label. There are three grain grades: giant, medium and small.

The traditional way to eat caviar is off of a mother-of-pearl fork with a shot of vodka or very dry champagne. Remove caviar from the refrigerator 15 minutes before eating. Take the lid off at the last possible minute and put the whole tin on a bed of crushed ice. It should be spooned onto a chilled plate carefully as to not crush the grains.

According to www.caviarideas.com and www.simplyseafood.com, caviar can be tossed with a little angel hair pasta and some crème fraiche. It can be paired with avocado, foie gras or escargot. It should be served with subtle flavors, and epicureans are split on whether or not it should be eaten with scrambled or shirred eggs.

Aiello said pressed caviar can be put in dips, and if it is being served to a large group, say a party of eight to 10, it would be better off to use it as a garnish. Air causes caviar to oxidize, so serving it on a buffet line is not a great idea.

Robert's does not stock a lot of caviar. "If you've got a recipe that needs it or you are having a party and want it, we can get it," he said. If a recipe calls for a specific kind of caviar, they can also offer some substitution suggestions if that type is not readily available.

Storing caviar

Unopened, a container of fresh caviar may be kept in the refrigerator for as long as eight weeks.

Store unopened caviar in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually bottom back. A chilly 28°-32° is ideal.

The salt and oils in the caviar keep it from freezing at that temperature. If your refrigerator is not that cold, and most aren't, place an ice pack atop the caviar tin or jar and replenish the ice as necessary. Never freeze caviar.

Generally, fresh caviar will keep for 2-4 weeks, pressed caviar for 2-3 months. Pasteurized caviar need not even be refrigerated until time to chill it for serving and will last for six months to a year on the shelf.

Once opened, it is highly perishable and should be eaten right away.

Scallops with Two Caviars

8 sea scallops

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup of brandy

2 cups heavy cream

Salt, freshly ground pepper

4 teaspoons black caviar

4 teaspoons golden salmon caviar

Nastrium blossoms for decoration

Slice each scallop into two equal discs. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a pan and sauté the scallops in the pan briefly until barely opaque. Add the brandy, ignite and flame for several seconds. Cover to smother the flames and remove the scallops from the pan.

Add the cream to the pan and boil until it reduces by half. Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining butter in small dabs. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper and divide among four warm plates. Arrange four scallop halves on top of the sauce on each plate.

Top each scallop with ½ teaspoon of caviar, alternating between the black and golden caviar. Garnish each plate with a nastrium blossom.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Whitefish Caviar Vinaigrette


½ tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ tablespoon rice wine vinegar

¼ c canola oil

2 tablespoons of wasabi whitefish roe

Mix mustard, vinegar and oil, fold in whitefish roe


2 4-ounce tuna filets

4 tablespoons black and white sesame seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon of naturally flavored and colored whitefish roe

Mix the sesame seeds with salt and pepper, coat the tuna. Allow the pan to get hot at medium-high heat. Pour in the oil and heat until just before the oil begins to smoke.

Sear the filets one minute on each side to whatever level of doneness is preferred. Place the tuna on a plate and pour on the vinaigrette. Garnish with additional wasabi whitefish roe.

Golden caviar dip

1 cup sour cream

½ cup crème fraiche

¼ cup of fresh chives, finely minced

4 ounces golden caviar

Juice of one lemon

Three hard boiled eggs, sieved

1 tablespoon crushed green peppercorns

Salt and pepper to taste.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Refrigerate two to three hours, taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with raw vegetables or unsalted chips. Makes two cups. n


Story published Friday, March 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 2 )

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