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How to serve and experience
this tasty indulgence.
Simply the mention of the word “caviar” conjures up an indulgent experience. Caviar was first written about as a fine delicacy in the 13th century, and was enjoyed by ancient Greek, Roman and Russian kings and aristocrats. Today, it represents true luxury to five-star chefs around the world and passionate foodies who love caviar for its distinctive, salty flavor and the elegant experience of enjoying it. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your caviar tasting.
First, make sure you’ve acquired authentic caviar. Caviar is salted fish roe, but not all salted fish roe is caviar. Caviar refers to the salt-cured fish eggs from different species of sturgeon harvested from the Caspian Sea, including Osetra, Sevruga and Beluga. If it comes from another fish it’s not true caviar, though in the United States we are allowed to label fish roe from other fish as caviar.
Look for caviar from Russia, Iran or Uruguay. Russian Beluga caviar has traditionally been the most rare and most expensive caviar, though Iranian Osetra takes those top honors today.
Great debate ensues as to how to properly serve and enjoy the luxurious pearls of a caviar tasting. Purists say that the rare delicacy should be served alone, without the traditional accoutrements to be explored in this story. Traditionalists, many award-winning chefs and publishers like me, enjoy the salty eggs with a little more high-end fanfare and ceremony.
Then there’s the decision on what to drink: Should caviar be served with a crisp, bubbly Brut Champagne or ice-cold Russian vodka? Really, it’s your choice as both have the acidity to cut through this deliciously salty, oily palate-pleaser.
“For me, true luxury can be caviar or a day with no meetings, no appointments and no schedule,” says fashion designer
What most agree on is that, if you enjoy caviar, you likely really enjoy caviar. “For me, true luxury can be caviar or a day with no meetings, no appointments and no schedule,” says fashion designer Michael Kors. Who could contest that?
The finest caviar should taste neither fishy nor overly salty. Connoisseurs look for shiny, fine-grained translucent spheres, and they should burst or pop sharply in your mouth when the caviar is at optimum freshness. The larger, shinier and more perfect the spheres are, the higher they are in quality. Caviar is best served very cold and raw.
One of the finest places to acquire caviar is from Caviar House & Prunier in London or Cannes, which features a restaurant, caviar tasting bar and retail shop. There is also a Prunier pop-up in Harrod’s if you’re in London, and if not, online ordering is available.
If price is no object, Almas, which means “diamond” in Russian, is the absolute most coveted caviar acquisition out there—Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea packaged in a 24-karat-gold box.
If natural, responsible and sustainable matters to you, meet Graham Gaspard, CEO of Black River Caviar owned by the Alcalde family. Their sustainable sturgeon farm in Uruguay has raised the bar on innovation for raising and harvesting authentic Russian sturgeon. They do so in a natural environment with zero waste, and locally produced fish feed from sustainable sources.
“Our mission is to produce the finest caviar in the world, pioneering innovation for the industry and setting the standard in the Southern Hemisphere for our high standards in production,” says Gaspard, who serves as an enviable example of living beautifully and counts many U.S. top chefs as clients. He understands that, as much as it’s about the caviar, it’s about the experience.
“Caviar makes just about anything better from scrambled eggs or an omelette, to a great beef tartare. I even toss it raw into pasta with lots of great butter. Caviar always raises good energy in a room and takes the party to the next level, even if the party is a romantic evening for two,” says Gaspard.
HOW TO SERVE AND ENJOY CAVIAR
A proper caviar tasting is all about the spoon. Caviar should never be served with a metallic utensil. Rather, it should be served using a non-metal spoon, or a caviar spoon made of bone, horn, tortoiseshell or mother-of-pearl. Any metal at all, including silver, will impart a metallic taste to the eggs. The most refined palates insist on mother-of-pearl spoons, the glimmering, incandescent whiteness of which is a beautiful contrast to the shiny black pearls.
Caviar should never be served with a metallic utensil. Rather, it should be served using a non-metal spoon, or a caviar spoon made of bone, horn, tortoiseshell or mother-of-pearl.
True caviar aficionados own and use a caviar server, usually a small, beautiful silver dish with an inner glass dish that nests on flaked ice to hold the caviar. If you don’t have a caviar server, place the caviar in a small glass or porcelain bowl, inside of a larger bowl filled with crushed ice. As the ice melts, make sure that water doesn’t spill into your caviar.
Enjoying caviar can be somewhat of a ritual. Served mostly on blinis (Russian mini pancakes) or toast points, it’s considered a finger food, eaten as an hors d’oeuvre, and should be eaten in one or two small bites. Guest etiquette is key here: it’s considered poor manners to eat more than an ample serving of two ounces or about two spoonfuls.
The most traditional Russian preparation for caviar is to serve it on toast points with creamy, artisanal butter. A little tip my caviar-loving Russian friend, Juliette, shares: If the butter is dreamily creamy to spread, add a dash of heavy whipping cream and a splash of vodka to change its texture.
The Europeans have softened the impact of caviar with the traditional preparation that most of us appreciate: finely chopped shallots or red onion, capers, cucumber, cooked and finely diced egg whites, and egg yolks cooked just right and presented separately, all served with crème fraiche on warmed blinis. And by the way, if you see me at the market with these items in my basket near Christmas, then you’ve caught me preparing my favorite Christmas Eve tradition.
Fine caviar is the perfect addition to tuna tartare shots, sushi, raw oysters, topped with potato and quail eggs, and even works well in a rich, creamy terrine to be served on lightly salted homemade chips.
And while caviar is good for the palate and good for the spirit, it’s also good for us in moderation. I like to think it’s part of my fountain of youth program, as it contains beneficial minerals and collagen, and vitamins A, B, D and E. It’s low in calories, but very high in sodium. Due to its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, of which caviar is a rich source, caviar has been found to elevate mood and was once suggested to alleviate depression. That said, it’s hard not to be happy when caviar is in front of you. Cheers!