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Elegance is a matter of taste. Caviar conjures images of swank penthouse parties where svelte ladies in slinky black dresses sip champagne and dance with financiers or possibly spies. Why does it have the mystique it does?
Considered a Russian delicacy; the expensive hors d’ oeuvre, a kilo of beluga caviar can cost as much as $5,000. But what is caviar? Fish roe, simply, most usually the eggs of sturgeon that have been sieved and salted. It is extremely perishable and is refrigerated immediately after the roe is harvested.
Though considered a Russian delicacy the term caviar comes from a Turkish word, “havyar” which itself is derived from the Iranian word “khayah.” In Russia, it is called “ikra.” Batu Khan, grandson of the legendary Mongol emperor and warrior Genghis Kahn made the earliest mention of caviar in the 13th century. Its production originated in Eurasia and the Mediterranean basin. In the days before refrigeration the caviar was heavily salted to preserve it and placed in wooden barrels.
With the advent of chilled transportation and refrigeration less salt was needed. The lightly salted delicacy is known as “molossol” in Russia.
This delicacy has a slightly salty tang in addition to a very light fish taste. Because of this, the dish is not served with metal utensils; usually delicate porcelain spoons are used. If the taste is too strong, it may be used as a spread on bread or eaten Russian style with “blinis” (traditional Russian pancakes) and chilled vodka. It is best served from the tin, which is surrounded by ice, however, it is usually served with crackers or with slightly toasted bread.
The best caviar is Iranian Osetra if your budget is unlimited (according to one website, a half pound of the delicacy will set you back more than $1,000). Do you have a daring side when it comes to your palate? Then perhaps the fresh Malossol Osetra is what you’re looking for. If you like your caviar whole and firm and with a nutty flavor you’ll want to try Malossol American Osetra.
For the weight conscious the good news is that caviar is low in calories. However, a 100-gram serving does contain 1,700 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of fat and 400 milligrams of cholesterol. The flip side is that several minerals and vitamins are present in caviar as well but let’s be honest, eating caviar is not about nutrition. It is about nourishing the essence of joie de vivre that lives in each of us.
There are several substitutes for caviar such as Malossol Paddlefish, Yukon River Alaskan Salmon Roe and Russian Golden Pike roe. Obviously the type of substitute you buy will depend on your taste. Purists claim the best caviar is from the Beluga sturgeon, but over fishing has led to the near extinction of the species.
Salmon roe has risen to the occasion. Known as American caviar it competes with Russian caviar in terms of quality and taste. An ounce of grade one caviar, the lightest color caviars cost approximately $75 an ounce.
Darker colored caviar is called grade two and will run you less money but if you’re going to splurge or want to impress someone, where’s the fun in that?