Learn About Caviar
cav·i·ar also cav·i·are (kv-ar, kav-) n.
The roe of a large fish, especially sturgeon, that is salted, seasoned, and eaten as a delicacy or relish.
Alteration of caviarie (probably from obsolete Italian caviari, pl. of caviaro), or from French caviare both from Turkish havyar, from Persian khvyr; ; akin to khyah, egg, from Middle Persian khyak; see awi- in Indo-European roots.
Word History: Although caviar might seem to be something quintessentially Russian, the word caviar is not, the native Russian term being ikra. Caviar first came into English in the 16th century, probably by way of French and Italian, which borrowed it from Turkish havyar. The source of the Turkish word is apparently an Iranian dialectal form related to the Persian word for "egg," khyah, and this in turn goes back to the same Indo-European root that gives us the English words egg and oval. This rather exotic etymology is appropriate to a substance that is not to everyone's taste, giving rise to Shakespeare's famous phrase, " 'twas caviary to the general," the general public, that is.
Specialists have always claimed that caviar has many virtues. In his Gram Dictionnaire de cuisine, Dumas indicated that Kaviar, made from “salted sturgeon eggs... has the property of preparing the stomach for other food, and can therefore replace soup. » Brillat - Savarin, in his Physiologie du gout, discussed the effects of an fish diet: “unanimous observations have demonstrated that it acts strongly on genetics, and awakens in both sexes the instinct of reproduction.
With 270 calories per 100 grams, caviar is not a high-calory food. It is, however, rich in protein (25.3 grams per 100 grams), fat (17 gr per 100 gr) and cholesterol (440 mg per 100 gr), but is low in sugar (4 gr per 100 gr). It also has a high content of mineral salts: 1,700 mg sodium, 164 mg potassium, 330 mg phosphorus and 51 mg calcium, along with vitamins D, A, C, B2, B44, B12 and PP. The recommended portion is from 30 to 50 gr of caviar per person.
Caviar should be served with a suitable utensil of gold, wood or horn, never silver, which alters the taste of the caviar. The best way to fully appreciate caviar is to taste small quantities, letting the grains burst open in the mouth to release their delicate flavor. All accompaniments pepper, lemon, onion and herbs must be banished from the table. Those who find the taste of caviar too strong are advised to spread a small amount on a blini or sliced bread. But the true connoisseur always prefers to eat caviar unadorned. According to Russian tradition, white vodka is the perfect accompaniment, but caviar is also delicious with dry champagne. Many chefs have recently created innovated recipes that incorporate caviar into complex dishes in the best of them, the delicate flavor is brought out by the contrasting interplay of flavors.
The Beluga is the biggest of all sturgeons (up to 6 m/20 It in length) and is the only carnivore. It is so incredibly rare that barely more than 100 fish per year are now caught in the Caspian waters. The Beluga has been known to weigh 600 kg (1,323 lb) or more, but unfortunately, because of aggressive modern fishing methods such a size seems extremely unlikely these days. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Beluga accounted for 40 per cent of the sturgeon catch - today it is barely one per cent.
The Beluga is silvery-grey in colour and differs from other sturgeon in that it loses the bony scales along its length after it is a few months old. It has a big, short head with a pointed snout and a large mouth, which in a full-grown fish is up to 25 cm (10 in) wide. Two sets of barbels (rather like whiskers), which all sturgeon use to locate their food, are situated under its mouth. Up to 25 per cent of the Beluga's body weight may consist of eggs, although individual fish have been recorded carrying up to 50 per cent. The female does not mature until about 25 years of age and may not spawn every year. Like all sturgeon, Beluga can keep their eggs inside them for more than one season, if the conditions and temperature are not favourable for spawning.
Because of its immense size, the Beluga generally has the biggest eggs, which are the most highly prized for their large grain and fine skin. The egg colour varies from light grey to nearly black. The lightest grey is the most highly appreciated, although the taste, described by experts as "a faint flavour of the sea", should not be affected by the egg colour. Recent times have seen Beluga caviar double in price within a period of months.
The Osetra is in some ways the most interesting sturgeon in that its eggs have the greatest variety in terms of size, flavour and colour. It is said that the taste of the eggs varies so much because the Osetra is a bottomfeeder and takes on the flavour of whatever it is eating. If you were to open ten 1.8-kg (4-Ib) tins of Osetra caviar simultaneously, each one would smell, taste and look different, even if the fish had been caught at the same time and the eggs processed at the same fishing station.
The Osetra grows up to 2 m (6% ft) in length and can weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb), although the average mature fish grows to 1.5 m (5 ft) and weighs only 20-80 kg (44-176 lb). It has a short, thick head with a slightly pointed nose and a small mouth that protrudes like a small suction pipe to suck up algae, plants, small fish and other crustacea. The fish has bony scales down the length of its body, and its colour varies from dark grey to brown on the backbone, with a lighter-coloured stomach. It also has two sets of barbels above its mouth.
Osetra can live for 60 to 80 years, and in the past some have been caught aged up to 120 years. They mature at 12 to 15 years of age. Those bred in warmer aquaculture conditions can mature earlier at 8 to 10 years. The eggs vary enormously in colour, from dark grey to dark brown and gold. Even in young fish the eggs are large in size and mostly of a dark golden shade. As the fish ages the roe fades to a light shade of amber and has a tremendously subtle flavour, described as "walnuts and cream".
The sevruga is the smallest sturgeon caught commercially. It grows to a maximum of 1.5 m (5 ft) and rarely exceeds 25 kg (55 lb) in weight. It has a snub nose with a long snout and two sets of barbels, just above its small mouth. Like the Oscietre, the sevruga is an omnivore and bottom-feeds on algae and small crustacea. It has very distinctive bony scales down its length, which resemble stars, and for this reason it is sometimes known as the star sturgeon. It has a striking backbone and mottled body, which may be deep blackish-brown, cinnamon-brown, ash-grey or nearly black. sevruga are nearly always darker when living in the sea than they are in rivers.
The Female sevruga starts producing eggs at about 7 to 10 years old, earlier than other sturgeon, from which time 10-12 per cent of its body weight consists of eggs. The fish is at its prime when caught between 18 and 22 years of age, when its eggs are at their best.
The eggs are grey-black with a fine grain, small and have the strongest flavour of all sturgeon eggs. Among connoisseurs they are the most highly appreciated for their unique taste. sevruga caviar is also the least expensive, mainly because sevruga sturgeon are to be found in greater numbers.
How to taste
Tasting must be done with the appropriate cutlery, either made of horn, wood or gold, rather than silver, which would irremedialbly alter the taste of the caviar. Its basic flavor evokes egg yolk, embellished with a touch of herb and iodine, and even, according to the variety, of hazelnut. The smell of caviar, which also has its importance, is very typical and will be soft and fresh if it is a quality product.
The best way to enjoy caviar is to proceed in small quantities set down on the tongue, letting the grains burst on the palate to deliver their delicate flavors. All along its long history, it was given accompaniments such as pepper, lemon, onions and herbs which are definitely to be banned. For those who may consider the first taste of caviar to be too strong, it is recommended to have it with a neutral complement such as a slice of white bread or a blini, a kind of small russian pancake made of risen dough.
An exceptional dish for celebration, caviar must be tasted according to precise rules if one wants to appreciate all its flavorful qualities; the whole protocol must be respected to enjoy this sea jewel. Before anything else, care must be given to take the box out of the refrigerator (where it is kept between 36 and 39° F) at least fifteen minutes before the meal, for the aromas to reconstitute. In order to avoid reheating, which could be disastrous to its taste, it is preferable to encircle the original box (from which it will be served) in crushed ice.
Even though their use is tempting, ancient plates made of engraved metal may alter the taste of the product. If one insists on using one, however, one should choose a glass or porcelain plate.
The problem encountered for the presentation of caviar is that it is tasted in small quantities and seems lost in the middle of a large plate. That is why some manufacturers have tried to remedy this by proposing individual display units, allowing the pearl of kings to keep all of its prestige until the end of the tasting.
The connoisseur will always prefer a plain tasting, keeping his attention to the magical fragrances of the precious little black grains. Recently, numerous chefs have innovated by associating caviar to some complex recipes, where the taste of the priceless black pearl, far from being buried under other ingredients, is enhanced by the set of contrasting flavors.