(KA-vee-ahr) – Caviar is from the Persian word “khav-yar” meaning “cake of strength,” because it was thought that caviar had restorative powers and the power to give one long life. Caviar is from the salted roe (eggs) of several species of sturgeon (it was originally prepared in China from carp eggs).  The carp is really a goldfish and is the only fish besides the sturgeon that has gray colored eggs.  Up until 1966, any fish roe that could be colored black was called caviar.  Then the Food and Drug Administration defined the product, limiting it to sturgeon eggs.  It takes up to twenty years for the female sturgeon fish to mature before it produces eggs (called berries).

Serving caviar begins with buying. The most important think to look for is that each berry is whole, uncrushed, and well coated with its own glistening fat.  The best caviar is generally eaten as is, au natural, on a piece of freshly made thin toast, with or without butter (though the caviar itself should be fat enough not to require butter).  It can also be sprinkled lightly with some finely chopped hard-cooked egg, and onions or chives.

  • Beluga

    (buh-LOO-guhl) -The Russian name for a sturgeon found in the Black and Caspian Seas (they can grow up to 2,000 pounds). It is the largest of the sturgeon family and is considered the finest caviar. The eggs are light to dark gray in color.

  • lumpfish roe

    The lumpfish is found mainly in Scandinavian waters, but also in Chesapeake Bay and off the coasts of Greenland and Iceland.  It is widely used as a garnish for soups and canap instead of “real” caviar.  Available in small jars, the red or black roe can be found at most supermarkets for a very reasonable price. It is usually pasteurized and vacuum packed.

  • Malossol

    (MAHL-oh-sahl) -The Russian for “little salt” or “lightly salted.”  Only eggs in prime condition are prepared and labeled t his way (caviar prepared “malosol” are considered fresh).

  • Oscietre

    This is spelled many ways, including “ossetra”, “oestrova”, and ” osietr”.  This is the second largest species of sturgeon and is the Russian name for the Caspian Sea sturgeon roe that is dark brown to golden in color with large granules and a delicate skin.

  • salmon roe

    The eggs of the Atlantic Salmon.  They are large and bright red and they are excellent for garnishing dishes.

  • Sevruga

    The smallest eggs of a sturgeon with a fine dark gray (almost black) color.  It is considered of lower quality than the Beluga and Osetra caviar.

  • Tobiko

    The Japanese name for a flying fish roe. They have very small red eggs with a crunchy texture

  • History:

    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, also supplying caviar. American caviar was so plentiful that it was given away at bars for the same reason modern bars give away peanuts – to make patrons thirsty.

    The sturgeon is a prehistoric dish; fossil remains dating from that time have been found on the Baltic coast and elsewhere.  Around 2400 B.C., the ancient Egyptian and Phoenician coastal dwellers knew how to salt and pickle fish and eggs, to last them in times of war, famine, or on long sea voyages.  There are some bas-reliefs at the Necropolis near the Sakkara Pyramid that show fisherman catching all kinds of fish, gutting them and removing the eggs.

    In the Middle Ages. shoals of sturgeon were to be found in the Thames, Seine, Po, and Ebro rivers and the upper stretches of the Danube.  At this time, sovereigns of many countries (including Russia, China, Denmark, France, and England) had claimed the rights to sturgeon. Fisherman had to offer the catch to the sovereign.

    In Russia and Hungary, the sections of rivers considered suitable for fishing the great sturgeon (the Beluga as we know it) were the subject of special royal grants.  Under the czar’s benevolence, the Cossacks of the Dnieper, the Don, and the Ural were allowed to fish for one two-week period twice a year (in the spring and fall).  Apart from he Cossacks and their families, the banks of the rivers were crowded with rich dealers from Moscow, Leningrad, and parts of Europe.  The fresh fish were sold to the highest bidder, who then had the fish killed, prepared the caviar on the spot, and then packed it in barrels filled with ice to be transported.  The Cossacks continued to have the right to sturgeon fishing until the Russian Revolution in 1917.

    To learn more about Caviar, check out Linda Stradley’s web page on Caviar.


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