You may or may not have heard that caviar is fish eggs.
This is true, but it’s also miles away.
You may also have heard that caviar is exactly “this” and not “that”.
This is also true as certain rules exist and if you’re ready we can begin.
- Salt Cured
- Of the Sturgeon
That’s the most basic definition.
If you need something basic, like a Merriam-Webster definition I suppose that’s fine, but maybe you are like me and expect a good, thorough explanation.
Quick reminder, you can’t just know a definition of something and be serious about it, especially caviar. How can you make an informed decision, or share astonishing info?
Caviar is something truly amazing and profound, and if you want to learn more, please continue reading.
First, let me tell you how I was introduced into the world of caviar.
It all began during a family round up. Our cousin came back from his trip to France. There he met a Russian fellow who showed him this amazing gift shop with high-end delicacies. He was hooked on the first bite, and in the following months he collected vast info about caviar. This is what he told us.
Yes, basically, caviar is unfertilized fish eggs that have been prepared and treated with salt. Those are the only ingredients.
Fish eggs are called roe.
Humans have used fish roe as part of their diet since the prehistoric times and that is a story for itself. To be more precise salted fish roe has been used for a long, long time.
The quality of the caviar is determined by the quality of the roe and the quantity of the salt.
The salt is actually added to preserve the roe because it is fragile and perishable. Of course there is a catch. Roe tastes best when fresh, so the more salt the lesser the quality.
These types of caviars are labeled as Malossol (lightly salted).
Caviar can be pressed and pasteurized but this will also reduce its value, both in dollars and at the table.
By referring to quality it is actually the taste what is predominantly measured. Beside the taste, what also plays a significant role is the texture, color, size and the method of processing.
The quality of the roe itself is something that is highly important.
It is determined by the quality of the fish, the waters they swim in, what they have been feeding on, their age and species. You see, all fish have roe, but not all roe can be caviar.
This special place belongs to any of the 26 known species of the Acipenseridae family, more commonly known as the Sturgeon family. Each type of fish produces roe that is different, and that is how we have different types of caviar with different tastes.
Although the fish can be found all around the world, especially in Eurasia and North America, originally, caviar comes from the shores of the Black and Caspian Sea. The most famous of all sturgeons are the wild sturgeons from this basin. They are the:
- Beluga – the biggest sturgeon with the largest roe ranging from gray to black
- Osetra – roe ranging in color from yellowish gray to dark brown
- Sevruga – smallest roe, ranging from gray to black
- Sterlet – smallest Sturgeon in this group, roe is golden in color
All Caspian caviars have a somewhat buttery taste and to some gourmets this is the only true caviar. However!
Due to overfishing, pollution, damming of the Volga River and ever increasing demands the population of wild sturgeons have been critically endangered which led to the following events:
- US banned the export and import of Caspian Beluga caviar in 2005
- In December 2013, Russia and other countries bordering the Caspian Sea agreed to completely stop fishing for sturgeon it those waters
The key player in wild sturgeon preservation is the United Nations Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Luckily for all of us the Sturgeon can be raised in aquaculture farms.
Today, the majority of world’s caviar productions is happening in these farms. A great number of these facilities have pristine water conditions and the quality of caviar doesn’t lag behind the famous wild sturgeon caviar.
The most sought out are certain sturgeon varieties, Osetra and Sevruga, As long as the fish belongs to the sturgeon family the roe can be labeled as caviar.
Very common in aquaculture are the Baerii or the Siberian Sturgeon and White Sturgeon.
In North America we have the Lake Sturgeon, its caviar is found under the name of American caviar. Its roe is very similar to the Caspian Sevruga.
The biggest producer of farm-raised caviar are China, Russia, Iran, Italy, Israel, France, the US and even Uruguay and the biggest consumers are the Swiss and the French, followed by Americans, the British and the Japanese.
Due to the sudden decrease of wild sturgeons’ population and due to the fact that caviar is a little bit pricy, some other very delicious alternatives have become popular.
In pure essence they are not caviar but roe that went through a similar procedure of salting and preparation. They shouldn’t be called caviar and unlike the roe from sturgeon that can be labeled just as caviar, the salted roe from some other species must have the name of the fish included before the word “caviar”. Also there must be an origin point declaration, that is, from where the fish originates.
The most common are:
- Salmon Roe Caviar or Red Caviar
- Lumpfish Caviar
- Trout caviar
- Tarama caviar
- Capelin Caviar
HOW TO EAT CAVIAR
One special place must be reserved to the sacred ritual of eating the caviar.
However you start this journey know that caviar must be well chilled. When purchasing it is not recommended to take more than you can eat in one serving as caviar is highly perishable and can’t last longer than a day or two once it is opened.
Of course, keep it in the fridge (but never freeze it). The perfect solution would be to start with a 30-gram tin for 2 people.
Never use metal spoons as metal can deteriorate the quality of caviar. Metal tins it comes in are special and isolated so that the caviar never gets in touch with the metal.
You can either do it as a standalone thing or a combination.
The traditional thing to do would be to pair it with blini (Russian type of pancake) and crème fraîche. For example check out this recipe that combines salmon roe with sour cream.You can also eat it on a toast. Because caviar is subtly buttery in its flavor you can even add a little bit of butter on your toast.
If you buy some other fish roe, you can even go further and pair with it a great variety of dishes and ingredients. Again, using salmon roe you can make an amazing Caesar salad with a little bit of salmon twist. Here is the recipe.
I must admit, the taste of caviar is a story in itself. I have covered it in great detail in my article on the taste of caviar.
In short, you will experience a fresh breeze that can only be experienced on the sea. It will melt in your mouth and it will (I promise) seduce you.
As I explained in that article, you can go for the short version and buy it, like, right now, or you can settle for a longer one, here.
Take the short answer this time.