Samui Wining & Dining
Truly egg-static!

The delicious and nutritious treat that is caviar.

 

12-13Caviar is one of the most celebrated delicacies in the world. Early in the history of its consumption, the unfertilised eggs of sturgeon fish were almost exclusively reserved for Middle Eastern princes and Russian Czars, with the European nobles soon following. In the old days, the expensive hors d’oeuvre was mainly a speciality for Casablanca-style saloons patronised by the upper classes. There, women would use pearl spoons to sample mouthfuls of the delicate fish roe using their jewelled and gloved hands. The ladies’ impeccably groomed male companions would join in, sipping champagne or vodka to complement the salted fish eggs. Some saloon owners would even dress tables with complimentary caviar in order to boost drink sales, as the expensive appetiser was typically heavily salted in order to preserve the highly perishable food.

    The word caviar is derived from 'khaviar' in Persian, meaning 'to bear eggs'. Originally harvested only from the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Iran and Russia, traditionalists consider only three types of fish eggs to be caviar, namely beluga, ossetra and sevruga. The French and the Russians are especially pedantic about this rule. For them, the fish roe have to come from wild fish stock in the Caspian Sea, and the strictest of guidelines must be adhered to for post-harvest treatment in order for the caviar to be considered premium.

        Nowadays, the definition of caviar is less black and white, as fish farms outside of the Caspian Sea can also cultivate sturgeon and label the roe as caviar. And indeed, fans are becoming increasingly open to strains coming from locations other than the Caspian Sea.

        While natural sea salt is used as a preservative for most caviar, untreated roe are gaining popularity in the culinary world. In fact, the unpasteurised and unsalted fish eggs may cost even more than the traditional caviar, as the raw ones have a much shorter shelf life.

       Deviating further still from what the traditionalists consider the exquisite appetiser, eggs from salmon, lumpfish, paddlefish and white fish can also pass as caviar, as long as the species from which the roe comes from is specified on the tin. On the other hand, novelty caviar such as snail roe, which resemble semi-transparent pearls and tastes of baked asparagus, are also served by niche restaurants as an alternative to the unfertilised fish eggs.

      Amongst ossetra, sevruga and beluga caviar, the latter is the most sought after due to dwindling global production and limited availability. Sadly over the past years, beluga sturgeons have been over-fished to the brink of extinction, which has subsequently led to the species being classified as critically endangered – meaning that the fish faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. Today, only around 100 wild female beluga sturgeons in the Caspian Sea contribute to the world’s annual production of the delicacy. Available only from selected upmarket vendors for a niche clientèle, beluga caviar remains one of the world’s costliest food items. Yet, the price tag not only reflects this particular type of fish egg’s rarity, but also serves as an indication of its exquisite taste and luxurious appearance. The enormous pea-sized eggs have a silver to black tinge, and offer an especially fragrant, smooth and buttery flavour.

      For eco-aware foodies, there is always the ossetra caviar. From the age of 40, a female ossetra sturgeon can produce up to 160lb of golden caviar annually. The nutty flavoured eggs have a mild after-taste of seaweed. At around US$100 for 225g, the ossetra roe are more wallet-friendly than the beluga variety.

      The sevruga caviar costs approximately the same as the ossetra. These unfertilised eggs from the species Acipenser Stellatus have a greyish appearance and are generally smaller in size when compared to ossetra and beluga eggs. Produced only by female fish over the age of 20, the sevruga roe offer a rich and salty taste

      Caviar is not only burst-in-the-mouth delicious, but incredibly nutritious too. Blessed with an abundance of omega three fatty acids, it can help prevent heart disease and combat depression. Furthermore, the luxury fish roe also carry high levels of riboflavin, patothenic acid, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D and B12 plus essential minerals such as magnesium and selenium. However, caviar is also renowned for its high concentration of sodium and cholesterol, and the treat should therefore be consumed in moderation. Nevertheless, some also consider caviar an aphrodisiac, as it contains a considerable amount of arginine, an amino acid that acts as a vascular dilator that increases blood flow.

      So, how best to consume caviar? We have all seen restaurants garnish the prized roe with chopped egg white, chives, loops of red onion and sour cream. But top quality roe must never be overwhelmed with garnishes or condiments. Generally speaking, a non-metallic spoon made of pearl, glass, horn, bone or even plastic works best with caviar. Sterling silver cutlery can transfer an unpleasant odour onto the eggs and should never be used.

      The easiest way to serve caviar is simply to open the tin and embed it directly in a bowl of ice. The caviar, unless pasteurised, must always be served chilled, as bacteria can quickly contaminate it at room temperature. After the initial preparation, scoop a dollop of caviar and place it directly in the mouth. Some experts also suggest transferring a spoonful onto the back of the hand, thus allowing the body heat to momentarily warm the caviar before it is washed down with champagne or vodka.

      But of course, personal taste prevails when it comes to the application of garnish. Traditionally, caviar is served on warm buckwheat blini toast. If the diner finds the roe too slippery, and therefore too clumsy to place on the bread, he may wish to anchor the spheres using sour cream or unsalted butter. Some Russian caviar connoisseurs also suggest serving un-garnished caviar on thinly sliced white potatoes or latkes – potato pancakes.

      Knowing the health benefits and the simple serving methods associated with caviar, next time you drop by your local delicatessen, don’t forget to pick a tin or two to treat yourself and your loved ones!

 

Kawai Wong


 


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