A Beginner’s Guide To Caviar

A Beginner’s Guide To Caviar

What better way to splurge than a mother-of-pearl bone spoon heaped with glistening caviar. (Silver spoons tend to tarnish and the metal alloys affect the taste of caviar.)

The word caviar refers only to the roe of the sturgeon typically found in the Caspian Sea. Other fish roe can be called caviar legally, but only if the word is preceded by the name of the other fish, such as “salmon caviar” or “lumpfish caviar.”

There are three main varieties of caviar, beluga, osetra, and sevruga. A fourth, rare caviar is sterlet. 

Beluga – This is the largest species of sturgeon, yielding the largest “berries,” which is a term for caviar grains or eggs. Because of its handsome appearance and very mild flavor, beluga is the most highly prized of all caviar. The color is designated by zeros with 3 zeros (000) for the lightest gray, 00 for medium gray, and 0 for the darkest black berries.

Osetra – This is the second largest species of sturgeon, producing slightly smaller caviar berries. The color of osetra ranges from golden yellow to brown; the flavor is more intense than beluga. 

Sevruga – The third main species of sturgeon yields the smallest eggs with the strongest flavor. The color is usually dark gray to black. Many connoisseurs consider sevruga the most delicious of all. 

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Sterlet – From this type of sturgeon comes the legendary “golden caviar,” which, historically was required by law to go to the Shah of Iran if found on the Iranian side of the Caspian Sea, to the Czar if found on the Russian side. The eggs have a firm texture and slightly smoky flavor. Golden Imperial caviar is very rare. 

The term Malossol, when applied to the three main types of caviar, means that the product contains less than 5 percent salt, making it of a higher quality than caviar to which more salt is added. However, the limited salt also makes it more fragile and prone to spoilage.

Accouterments – Caviar aficionados often opt to eat the elegant little eggs unadorned, straight from the tin, with a mother-of-pearl spoon.

However, for more fanfare, you can serve caviar with finely chopped hard-boiled egg white, egg yolk, finely chopped onion, lemon wedges, crème fraîche, and melba toast. 

-Colin Cowie

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