Delight the palate with a little caviar

We could all use something a little indulgent right now.

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Caviar is having a moment.

Although many of us are concerned about the rising cost of food, one of the world’s most luxurious flavors has become the daily staple.

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After all, if you skip the main course to snack on appetizers or happy hour specials, as many of us seem to do these days, you might as well make it special.

So why not add a small dollop of caviar to a freshly shucked oyster or a retro deviled egg? Or better yet, why not savor an unadorned roe “bump” for the purest caviar experience?

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It’s the delicious irony of dining right now: We’re trying to save money (or, at least, not blow the budget), but we still crave luxuriously maximalist experiences.

Sure, caviar is expensive (you’re looking at $100 and up per ounce), but a little goes a long way. One ounce is enough to garnish two to three dozen canapes. Plus, you can always choose a less expensive alternative.

But before you go for roe, here’s what you need to know.

Caviar Basics

“Caviar” is the roe of sturgeon lightly cured with salt, the large, long-lived, mostly freshwater fish that travels back in time since prehistory; Fossils have been found dating back to the Late Cretaceous period (about 100 million years ago) and probably evolved hundreds of millions of years earlier.

The world’s most revered caviar comes from the Caspian Sea, especially Russia and Iran, but many other countries, including Madagascar, China, Iceland and Canada, also produce it, increasingly through aquaculture.

Unfortunately, the sturgeon is critically endangered in many places. Climate change, pollution and conflicts around the Black and Caspian Seas certainly don’t help the numbers.

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If you’re purchasing caviar, do so through a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) compliant company, such as the Vancouver-based International House of Caviar.

These are the main types of caviar:

Beluga is the most luxurious (and expensive) of caviars and has large, pearl-gray eggs, a subtle flavor and buttery texture.

Osetra is the best choice, with firm, golden-brown eggs and a rich, nutty flavor.

Sevruga is more widely available and affordable, with smaller, crispy black or gray eggs that have a distinctive pop and rich, salty flavor.

Crêpes with crème fraiche and premium Giaveri Imperial Beluga caviar from Italy.
Crêpes with crème fraiche and premium Giaveri Imperial Beluga caviar from Italy. Photo of the International House of Caviar

White sturgeon are popular for North American farm-grown caviar, such as Sechelt’s high-quality Northern Divine (bought last year by US-based Carian & Caviar). It has a crisp pop, creamy mouthfeel, and natural sweetness.

There are also other types of eggs that are much less expensive:

Salmon roe (ikura) typically comes from Alaska and features large, pinkish-red pearls with a juicy touch and a sweet, salty flavor.

Danish trout roe are similar, but a little smaller and softer.

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Flying fish roe (capelin, tobiko, masago) from Iceland are tiny and crunchy, sometimes dyed and flavored, and often served in sushi.

North Atlantic lumpfish roe is the cheapest and a good choice for canapés and other dishes. It is small, crunchy and typically tinged red or black, with an umami/salty flavor.

caviar service

You can enjoy caviar in many ways: over pasta, French fries, scrambled eggs or any number of different canapes, but the most traditional is the classic caviar serve.

To do this you will need a bowl, ideally glass, filled with crushed ice, as well as three to five small bowls for accompaniments and mother-of-pearl spoons for serving the caviar. (Never use metal; it reacts with the eggs and gives them an unpleasant taste.)

Depending on your budget, expect to serve about an ounce of caviar per person. Open the can just before serving and place it in the crushed ice; Always keep it very cold and consume it within 24 hours of opening.

On the side, serve the small pancakes known as blini. In those small serving bowls, offer finely chopped chives, hard-boiled eggs and onions, as well as capers and crème fraîche. Then guests can choose the accompaniments they like best.

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On the other hand, the best way to enjoy caviar is without any accessories. Simply place a small amount on the back of your hand, between your thumb and forefinger, and devour this deliciousness au naturel.

Follow with chilled vodka or champagne and repeat as desired.

Recipes

Blini cheater

Traditionally, these bite-sized pancakes are made with a leavened buckwheat dough, but this simple version uses all-purpose flour and baking powder. Perfect for a variety of canapes, including caviar with fresh cream and any other toppings you like.

Makes about two dozen small pancakes.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (see note)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter, slightly cooled to room temperature, but still liquid
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or as needed

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.

Whisk milk, egg and melted butter in a separate bowl. Mix into flour mixture until dough is completely combined. Let it sit for about an hour and then beat again.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Drop the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the hot skillet. Cook until bubbles form, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

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Flip and continue cooking until browned, about 1 minute more. Place on a plate lined with a paper towel to help absorb excess butter. Repeat with remaining dough.

It can be served hot or at room temperature. Top with fresh cream, smoked salmon and/or caviar and garnish with capers, chopped red onion, dill, lemon or whatever you like.

Note: If you want a more traditional flavor, substitute 1/3 cup all-purpose flour for 1/3 cup buckwheat flour.

easy fresh cream

Rich and tangy, crème fraiche can be mixed into soups, mixed with sauces, whipped with sugar and served over fruit or, of course, served over blini and topped with caviar.
Makes 1 cup.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons cultured buttermilk or sour cream

Combine cream and buttermilk or sour cream in a small nonreactive bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit at room temperature (20°C to 22°C) until thickened to desired texture, 12 to 24 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Tip: Transfer it to a piping bag to apply it to the blinis in the easiest and neatest way.

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