Even if you’ve tried to keep your head buried in the sand and avoid the media headlines this year, the onslaught of bad economic news has been hard to ignore. Unemployment, defaulted mortgages, a tanking economy…it’s no wonder we’re looking forward to New Year’s Eve more than ever, a holiday that celebrates moving forward and starting fresh. It’s a holiday that encourages even the scrooges among us to be hopeful. It’s also a holiday that puts us in the mood to ignore the headlines and splurge a little bit, and few foods make us feel more extravagant than caviar.
I usually publish recipes here on Mark’s Daily Apple on Saturdays, but I thought you might like a little lead time so you can hunt down these delicious little fish eggs before the 31st. That and I’ve got something else planned for the 31st (stay tuned!). In any case, back to caviar.
Caviar contains about a gram of omega-3 per spoonful and is a good source of calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, several B vitamins and amino acids, making it a perfectly Primal way to ring in the new year. Most gourmet food shops and fish counters keep caviar well-stocked this time of year. You’re likely to encounter a confusing array of choices, with prices ranging from “affordable indulgence” to “heart-stopping extravagance.”
Caviar is the eggs, or roe, harvested from sturgeon. Fish eggs are also harvested from salmon and trout and should be clearly labeled as “salmon caviar” or “trout caviar.” The term ”malossal” on a caviar tin means “lightly salted,” which helps preserve the delicate eggs.
Wild-caught Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga caviar comes mostly from the Caspian Sea basin. These are the most expensive and also the least sustainable types of caviar, as all three varieties of sturgeon are at risk of extinction. In fact, since 2005 Beluga sturgeon has been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and importing Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea into the US is illegal. Caviar harvested from the Caspian Sea can also have high levels of mercury, yet another reason not to splurge. Although many caviar connoisseurs claim this is the best caviar available, the extravagant prices for wild Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga reflect not only the taste but also the scarcity of the product.
Sturgeon is also indigenous to the U.S. and was plentiful in the 19th century. So was domestic caviar, until over-fishing depleted the wild sturgeon population in the US. These days, domestic caviar has increased in popularity again among caviar-lovers in the U.S. looking for more sustainable and affordable choices. Domestic caviar is considered more sustainable because it is farmed rather than wild caught, usually using aquaculture methods. Because the delicate flavor of caviar is directly affected by the environment the fish is raised in, most producers take great care to use water free of pollutants and all-natural feed. Do your research, and buy from producers you trust.
Two varieties of domestic caviar you’re likely to see at the market come from white sturgeon and hackleback sturgeon. Thought by many to be similar to Osetra and Sevruga caviar, you can expect a buttery texture and mild, nutty flavor. Less expensive options come from fish that are not sturgeon, but produce eggs that look and taste an awful lot like the real thing, such as Paddlefish and Bowfin caviar. This type of caviar has a bolder, earthier flavor. The third and most affordable option is roe taken from salmon. These eggs are bright orange, rather than black or gray, and larger in size. Whitefish caviar is also bright orange, but the eggs are tiny, just like sturgeon caviar. Salmon roe is fishier and saltier than caviar from sturgeon and instead of a buttery texture, the eggs almost pop in your mouth.
Our favorite way to eat caviar is straight from a spoon, with no other flavors interfering. (But be careful of sterling silver spoons, which impart a metallic taste onto the eggs.) If you’re throwing a party, however, having guests spoon-feed caviar to themselves probably isn’t the best option. In this case, an edible platform topped with a little caviar is a better way to go. Deviled eggs are always a good option, as the flavor of fish eggs pairs really well with run-of-the-mill eggs. If you’re looking for an appetizer that’s even easier to prepare, simply slice a cucumber into rounds and pile the roe on top. The crisp, clean flavor of cucumber doesn’t get in the way of tasting the true flavor of the caviar. A third and very popular way of serving caviar is on a blini, which is basically a tiny pancake. Our Primal Blinis are light and airy and easy to make.
Once caviar is opened, it should be eaten within a few days. So indulge, enjoy and have a very happy new year!
Makes 8-12 blinis
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt two tablespoons of butter and let cool.
Use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, melted butter and salt by hand.
Gently fold egg yolks into egg whites.
Melt remaining butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.
Spoon egg mixture evenly into the pan.
Let the eggs cook untouched for two minutes then move the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool, then use a cookie cutter to cut out small circles.