“The roe of the Russian mother sturgeon has probably been present at more important international affairs than have all the Russian dignitaries of history combined. This seemingly simple article of diet has taken its place in the world along with pearls, sables, old silver, and Cellini cups.”
– by James Beard
“To give caviar is to honor the recipient. To serve caviar is to honor the guest.”
– by author unknown
Did You Know?
American caviar now rivals Russia’s in quality. As of January 2006, the United Nations banned export of beluga sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea region, because the traditional source of the sought-after roe, reaches the endangered beluga caviar. With the ban on Caspian Sea beluga caviar, American chefs are going domestic with our wonderful American caviars.
Caviar, of course, is the eggs of sturgeon which from the earliest times thrived in American waters. Settlers of America discovered sturgeon to be the most prolific fish of the North American continent. Americans, at first, disdained the sturgeon on which the Indians thrived, and sturgeon was fed only to slaves.
The American caviar industry got started when Henry Schacht, a German immigrant, opened a business catching sturgeon on the Delaware River. He treated his caviar with German salt and exported a great deal of it to Europe. At around the same time, sturgeon was fished from the Columbia River on the west coast.
In the beginning of 19th century, the United States was the major producer of caviar in the world and produced 90% of the world’s caviar. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was the largest producer of caviar in the world, processing more than 600 tons a year.
In the 1880’s, a small town in New Jersey was sending 15 trains loads a day with caviar from the Delaware River sturgeon, headed first to New York and then to all the European capitals.
At one time, caviar was so common in America it was served in saloons to encourage thirsty drinkers. Hudson River sturgeon were so plentiful that the flesh was referred to as “Albany beef.” A nickel could get you a serving of the best caviar available in New York, and many of the most lavish establishments, including the Waldorf Astoria, offered free-flowing caviar as an amuse-bouche opening to an elegant meal.
Caviar was also a common food in California during the gold rush days. Recently, the United States has made a strong comeback in caviar production.
Check out my Culinary Dictionary for more information and history of caviar.
How To Buy American Caviar:
A common question we get from customers is “How much caviar should I buy for my party?” Well, we have to ask how many guests? How are you serving the caviar? Are your guests big caviar eaters?
Guidelines to help you:
You can get between 8 to 10 (1/2 teaspoon) servings per ounce of caviar.
You can get about 20 (1/4 teaspoon) servings per ounce of caviar.
For eating caviar straight out of the jar or tin, and real caviar enthusiasts are your guests, figure at least 1/2 to 1 ounce of caviar per person.
If you are serving appetizers with caviar on top and you want to taste the caviar over the other ingredients on the appetizer, use a dollop or a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of caviar.
For party canapapes, count on one (1) 2-ounce jar serving for approximately 8 people.
These are only suggestions, as it really depends on you, your guests, and how much you are able to spend. When caviar is the focus of your treats at your gathering, then the more the merrier. A little goes a long way If caviar is being served by itself, or with crackers or toast points, a 2-ounce jar serves approximately 4 people.
How To Store Caviar Safely:
Do not open caviar until needed.
Refrigerate but never freeze! Freezing of caviar can be done but is not recommended. Freezing can toughen the caviar roe membrane and alter the flavor. If you feel you will not be able to consume your caviar within the three weeks recommended or you are not able to refrigerate it properly, freezing is an option. If you freeze your caviar, you must thaw it slowly in your refrigerator over most of a day prior to serving.
In order to avoid having the caviar berries burst, caviar must be refrigerated at 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be done either by putting the tin in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually the meat shelf, or by placing the tin in a bowl and surrounding it with crushed ice.
Fresh caviar can be stored in your refrigerator for 15 to 20 days unopened. Consume caviar once it has been opened within 2 to 3 days. Unopened pasteurized caviar can be kept on the shelf for 6 months.
Cover and refrigerate any leftovers promptly and use within a day or two. If caviar is left in the tin, the surface should be smoothed and a sheet of plastic wrap should be pressed directly onto the surface before placing it back in the refrigerator. Turn the tin over each day so the oil reaches all of the eggs.
How To Serve Caviar:
Caviar roe is tender and fragile, so always be very gentle with it – lift while spooning out. If spreading, ease it softly with a teaspoon. Caviar should be served from a non-metal spoon. Caviar spoons are widely available in bone, tortoise shell, and Mother of Pearl caviar spoons. Any metal, including silver, will impart a metallic flavor to the caviar berries.
Salmon caviar has a large “grain” (egg size) and when used to decorate canapes, single grains can be set in place with the tip of a table knife. It is best to gently rinse Lumpfish, Whitefish, and Salmon caviars to prevent any color from running. Turn out caviar into a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse gently with cold tap water. Shake, then turn onto several layers of paper towels to absorb moisture. Then use as directed.
It is important when serving caviar that the jars are removed from the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before serving, and opened immediately before consumption.
The two most popular beverages with simple caviar are frozen vodka or a very dry Champagne or sparkling wine. A dry white wine also works well.
Caviar should not be cooked or it will toughen. If using it in a recipe, always add it toward the end of the preparation, or as a last-minute garnish.
To preserve the full flavor of caviar, scoop it out using a Mother of Pearl Caviar Spoons, and NEVER use a metallic spoon as metal oxidizes the eggs, which will create an unwanted and pretty horrid metal bite. If necessary use a wood or plastic spoon.
Do not mush caviar up while you’re serving yourself or other, lift the spoon carefully. Caviar should be scooped from the container vertically from top to bottom to avoid crushing the eggs.
If caviar is passed to you in a caviar servers and bowl with its own spoon, serve a teaspoonful onto your plate. As the following accompaniments are offered, use the individual serving spoon in each to take small amount of minced onion and sieved egg whites and yolks, as well as a few lemon slices and a couple of toast points. Assemble a canape with a knife, then use your fingers to lift it to your mouth.
If you are at a cocktail party or reception, where prepared caviar canapes are being passed on trays, simply lift one off the plate and pop it into your mouth.
When served caviar as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer, no matter how much you might be tempted by its luscious flavor. It is considered bad taste to eat more than an ample serving of about two ounces, or about two spoonfuls.
The simplest way of tasting caviar is to place a little on the back of the hand at the junction of the thumb and forefinger.
Types of American Caviar:
The U.S. Government says that the roe of sturgeon may be called simply “Caviar,” whereas the roe of other fish can be called “Caviar” only if the name of the fish comes first. Thee following is a descriptive list of caviars made from American fresh water fish:
American Sturgeon Caviar – Sturgeon resemble a prehistoric creature, but they are actually the modern relics of an ancient group of fish with fossil records dating back 100 million years. These fish can run up to 10 feet in length and weight more than 300 pounds. Many fish of 800 to 1,000 pounds or more were caught around the turn of the 20th century, but by the 1920s, the biggest sturgeon were gone. The sturgeon has no skeletal structure. When removed from the water, all the fish’s weight lies on its internal organs.
Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens) – Mature sexually in 15 to 20 years, run upwards of l00 pounds, spawn once every 5 to 7 years and yield about 25% of their body weight in roe. The caviar is comparable in size, color and flavor, to Russian beluga.
Hackleback Sturgeon (Scaphiryhnchus Platoryhnchus) – Is native to the Mississippi/Missouri River System and is faster growing and smaller than most sturgeon running about 38 inches at maturity. Sometimes called the “shovelnose sturgeon,” or the “sand sturgeon,” it is the most abundant sturgeon in the American wild. The size of its eggs are small. They are almost always black, or near-black, and can have a sweet butteriness reminiscent of beluga caviar.
Paddlefish (Polyodon Spathula) – Commonly called “Spoonbills,” are a cartilaginous cousin to sturgeons and yield roe ranging in color from pale through dark steel-grey and golden “osetra brown.” The Paddlefish found in the rivers of Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri and is processed in exactly the same manner as caviar from the Caspian Sea. The caviar is smooth and silky with a rich, complex flavor.
White Sturgeon – (Acipenser Transmontanus) – Indigenous to the waters and rivers of North America’s Pacific Coast (from southern Alaska down to Ensenada, Mexico). It is a huge sturgeon, sometimes measuring 20 feet long, weighing 1500 pounds, and sometimes living for over 100 years; it is the largest fresh-water fish in North America.
Idaho White Sturgeon Caviar – This White Sturgeon caviar from Hagerman Valley, Idaho is often compared to the fabled beluga sturgeon eggs of the Caspian Sea. Located in the high dessert along the Snake River. This area is also well-known for it rainbow trout farms. All Idaho caviar is sold under the Fish Processor, Inc. label. Idaho caviar, like all caviar, varies in flavor and color from year to year.
Salmon Caviar – It is sometimes referred to as red caviar. Most of the salmon eggs we see in the market come from Chinook or Coho salmon that has been caught or raised in the West (including Alaska and Canada). It is prized for it’s large roe which can be the size of a pearl, which comes in a glistening, orange-red color.
Whitefish or Golden Caviar – Know as American Golden caviar. It is a small freshwater fish found in all Northern countries, including the United States, the Great Lakes, and Canada. Its roe is of a fine, firm, pale-orange, golden color and almost irredescent apprearance. Like Sevruga caviar, the tiny eggs pop in your mouth. It has an uncommon subtle flavor and fine crispy texture.
Bowfin (Amia Calva) – Better known by its Cajun name “Choupique” is not related to, but is even more ancient than the sturgeons. The bowfin is the only remaining living specimen of an ancient group of fish, which lived over 180 million years ago. In the South, it is classified by most people as a trash fish eaten only by ethnic groups that usually use the flesh to make fish cakes. The choupique’s name comes from “shupik,” a Choctaw Indian word that translates as mudfish. It also has been known as bowfin, swampfish, and cypress trout. The bowfin is an aggressive, predator fish found throughout the eastern USA into southern Canada. The roe is called “Cajun Caviar” in Louisiana. This bony fish yields a black roe with a distinctive lively flavor and makes a good, less expensive substitute for sturgeon caviar. (Unlike sturgeon, bowfin roe will turn red if heated.) Bowfin Caviar is firm and shiny with natural black eggs resembling sturgeon caviar. Clean and nicely separated berries have a distinctive, lively flavor.