Sicilian Culture

Feb 22, 2002

The Food: Caviar

Freezer-Chilled Vodka
Tall Shot Glasses
Open Mind
Romantic Member of the Opposite Sex

Since as early as the 13th Century, Russian kings and czars have enjoyed caviar. In the early 1900s it was introduced to France and ever since has become an important part of French cuisine. Over the centuries, only 3 types of sturgeon that come from the Caspian Sea are known for the finest caviar: the Beluga; Osetra; and Sevruga. Even today, although there are many other parts of the world where caviar is produced, only the Caspian sea offers the consistant and unique combination of optimum water temperatures, and climate. What Cuba is to the cigar, the Caspian Sea is to fine caviar.

The abundance of seafood and the quality of the caviar in the southern part of the Caspian Sea are attributable to the particularly advantageous environmental conditions which prevail there. In the southern part of the Caspian Sea, the sea bed descends to a depth of several hundred meters and offers the sturgeon ideal living conditions with ample nutrition and a sea bed which greatly appeals to the sturgeon's preference for gravel and constant currents. This habitat has a benevolent effect on the quality of Caspian Sea life.

Ok, but let's face it, caviar is not a native Italian food nor is it indigenous to the area, but it is a neighbor though, from the caspian sea, but when you are entertaining, its not all about being Italian as it is serving great food, and especially around the holiday to make a romantic dinner even yet more romantic (after all, its about the people, not the food, the food is just an entertainment device like good music). So, when you really want to celebrate, here is how you do it for those extra-special occasions (Valentines Day, Christmas Eve (if there is just the two of you), New Year's Eve, Intimate breakfasts in bed, etc.).

Where to buy?  Well, to be sure its absolutely fresh, and authentic, obviously buy from a reputable importer.  If time is not an issue (like you need it THAT night), order it online from the experts who import the best, and I say that because I know, I have ordered pounds from it (over the years) and they are also the sole importers of Iranian caviar in the US since the embargo has been lifte.  Paramount Caviar are the only people I buy my caviar from.  

Basic Caviar Types

Beluga Sturgeon is the largest of all caviar eggs. In hues that range from dark pearl gray to black, these firm and uniform eggs come from fish weighing as much as 1000 pounds and take 20 patient years to mature and acquire their fresh, smooth taste.

Osetra Sturgeon are mid-size, firm, brownish-gray eggs have golden sheen and strong fruity or nutty flavor from fish that can weigh up to 600 pounds, these appetizing eggs take at least 12 years to properly mature in the waters of the Caspian sea.

Sevruga Sturgeon like Beluga and Osetra, they are found in the Caspian Sea. The smallest and most abundant of sturgeons, it takes 7 years to reach maturity. The taste and color are similar to Beluga, with smaller eggs.

North American Sturgeon is slightly smaller than Caspian Beluga and found in Northwest waters. Available in a light gray, bold tasting Paddlefish, and a light and delicate tasting black Hackleback. Both compare favorably to imported varieties.

Salmon Roe, the colorful caviar. Ranging from golden amber to reddish orange, these large eggs are known for their distinctive "pop" when rolled between palate and tongue. These domestic eggs have a much sharper and piquant taste than sturgeon caviar.

Golden Whitefish is a small freshwater fish found in all Northern countries including the United States Great Lakes and Canada. Its roe is of a fine, pale golden color and almost irredescent appearance. It has an uncommon subtle flavor and fine crispy texture.

For the Purist: caviar should be served on crushed ice (in the glass container it came in) and frozen shots of vodka to wash it down.  Thats it.  Its that simple.  But if you want to get more creative, try the caviar and grilled gruyere cheese sandwich.

Blini: A blini is a smaller version of a potato pancake, and excellent for serving caviar on.

Caviar Dont's:  Do not serve with a squeeze of lemon, the acidity ruins the flavor and drowns out the flavor as well.  If you serve with smoked salmon, serve it separately, again, the smoked salmon's flavor is so strong, it will block out that of the caviar.  Remember, caviar is expensive, often $100 for an ounce, so why would you want to alter its flavor?  Serve it chilled, that is the best way, of course as a compliment to food is fine too, but be sure the other food does not drown the flavor of the caviar.

Vodka: naturally I am partial to Mezzaluna Vodka, which is made in Italy, and even if not, its one of the smoothest, if nto the smoothest I have ever had.  Its simple, put the bottle in the freezer at least overnight, if not longer.  Get tall thin round shot glasses (that still hold 1-2oz., the idea is not to get smashed drunk).  Pour only when you are ready to eat the caviar.

Champagne:  Vodka is the true complimentary spirit which matches caviar, but if you cannot take that kind of punch, champagne is the next best companion.  Of course you can use Italian sparkling wines like Asti Spumanti, but this is the ONLY time you will hear me say this, in this sense, the French champagnes are best:  Moet, Louis Roederer, Nicholas Leuitte ($50 price range); if $50 is too much, try the Korbel, I happen to like it, and that comes from a person that has had the 1990 Vintage of Dom Perignon, not only did I not care for the taste, its obviously $100 more even if it did taste slightly better... try teh Louis Roederer, it scores a 91 rating from Wine Spectator Magazine, and you can get it for $35-40.  How to open the bottle?  No, you dont pop the cork so it goes flying across the room, you simply take a towel or your hand and slowly twist the cork from the bottle left to right, upward till you hear a "pop", its a bit more classy and elgant rather than the cork going flying across the room, breaking something, getting lost and/or injuring someone.

Mimosa:  A mimosa is equal parts of champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice.  A very popular brunch drink at bed and breakfast inns or trendy restaurants that serve brunch, it takes the place of a bloody mary, which is too strong and for those of whom don't like tomato juice.  If you are going to make a mimosa, go ahead, use the Freixinet, or the Korbel, but I would not recommend using the "good stuff" for that occasion.

Non Alcoholic Drinks:  Not into alcohol and/or have to drive?  Try Martinelli's sparkling apple cider, it was a favorite of entertainer Dean Martin (often on stage, he was not drinking scotch like everyone thought, but actually Martinelli's).  There is also non-alcoholic sparkling white wine, check your local supermarket or liquor store (yes, liquor stores will have it too). 

Strawberries:  Many people float strawberries in champagne, you can, I don't have a problem with it, but I am not sure it does much outside of looking elegant. I much rather have chocolate strawberries for desert instead of floating them in a glass of champagne.