Indulge in the Luxury of Caviar: How to Choose, Serve, and Enjoy the Best Quality Caviar


Not always, but once in a while, everyone should try good quality caviar! It’s a special and showy treat, and delicious when served properly.

What is caviar?

A caviar is a fish egg with a salty fish flavor. The two basic types are black caviar and red caviar, the latter available in shades ranging from orange to amber.

History of caviar and the origin of the word

Sturgeons are the great survivors of the age of dinosaurs, the Mesozoic. People have been fishing and collecting eggs since prehistoric times. It was very popular in ancient times and was first recorded in the writings of Batu Khan. The word ‘caviar’ was introduced into French and Italian from the Turkish traders’ word ‘khavyar’. In the Middle Ages, it was food for the poor, as it spoiled quickly, and was mostly enjoyed by fishermen’s families.

Most caviar is imported by the Russians and Persians. Unfortunately, sturgeons are on the verge of extinction – or at least endangered – due to poaching following the break-up of the Soviet Union. The price of caviar has risen accordingly: some species are even more expensive than gold.

Caviar is removed from live fish because when it dies, a bitter substance is released which renders the eggs inedible. The processing is done by hand and should not take more than a quarter of an hour after the operation, which is carried out at 0 °C.

In the 1900s, the United States and Canada joined the caviar trade. However, fish stocks dwindled to such an extent that strict trade restrictions were imposed in 1906.

Types of caviar

Russian gastronomy basically distinguishes four types of caviar:

  • Black caviar: an egg of a true sturgeon;
  • Red caviar: eggs of salmonids;
  • Pink caviar: the eggs of the marena;
  • Yellow caviar: eggs of the sterlet.

But we can also group caviars by their characteristics, so let’s see which ones have which characteristics.

Beluga caviar

The beluga’s eggs are the largest, 3-4 mm in diameter, clear and shiny, ranging in color from pale silver-grey to black. The taste of caviar is creamy, nutty, buttery, pleasantly salty, and fishy. The shell of the eggs melts in the mouth.

Almas caviar

The most expensive caviar in the world. The most expensive caviar in the world. The world’s most expensive caviar. It is the most expensive caviar in the world. The albino beluga is extracted from the fish roe. Mostly found in the southern Caspian Sea, its eggs are traded by the Iranians. It is sold in a gold box.

Osetra caviar

The osetra fish is threatened with extinction. Its color ranges from dark yellow to greyish with golden hues. It has a pleasant marine flavor with a nutty aftertaste.

Sevruga caviar

The eggs are much smaller in diameter, 1-1.5 mm. The color ranges from light grey to dark. The flavor is intense, with cashew-like notes. It is saltier than the others because of its smaller size.

Sterlet caviar

It has almost disappeared. Nowadays it is farmed in Lithuania.

Kaluga caviar

This giant sturgeon species, which prefers clean running water, is found in the Amur River basin on the border between Russia and China. It has large, dark-colored, slightly smoky, buttery-tasting eggs.

Caviar markings on the package

On the packaging of caviar, you can find a variety of labels and terms, such as the following:

  • 000 (three zeros): Caspian Sea caviars are classified into three categories. The ‘000’ is used to indicate pale silver-grey, the ’00’ medium grey, and the ‘0’ black. Although the taste is the same regardless of the shade, the lighter caviars are more prized.
  • MALOSSOL (lightly salted): The Russian term ‘malossol’ refers to the fact that these caviars have been treated with less salt (3.5-5%) than other types of caviar (10-11%). The taste of the less salty and therefore more perishable ‘malossol’ caviars is highly valued by experts and is reflected in the price.
  • PASTEURIZED: Heat treatment is a process whereby the roe is partially cooked, which increases the shelf life and changes the texture. Heat-treated and/or vitrified caviars usually do not need to be chilled, but it is worth checking the label to make sure.
  • PRESSED: In the caviar grading process, damaged, weak, defective eggs are processed into specially treated, salted, pressed caviar. This jam-like substance usually contains several types of caviar. Although pressed caviar is not comparable to wedge caviar, when all you need is the taste of caviar, the intense, rich caviar taste of this product can be satisfying.

Big fish, small ingredients

The sturgeon fish that produce black caviar can weigh up to 10-25% of their weight in caviar. The best quality is beluga caviar, named after the beluga sturgeon. This species can live up to 150 years and grow up to five meters long. The eggs are 3-4 mm in diameter and have a pleasant fishy flavor.

On average, eggs account for 10 percent of the weight of sturgeon. That’s not caviar, of course, as the ovaries come off and lose weight during the processing. The eggs of a ten-kilo fish are therefore one kilogram, and the caviar extracted from them is just under 70 kilograms.

On average, eggs account for 10 percent of the weight of sturgeon. That’s not caviar, of course, as the ovaries come off and lose weight during the processing. For a 22-pound fish, the eggs are 2.2 pounds, the caviar is just 1.5 pounds.

The same applies to sturgeon meat. The cartilaginous fish has a large head, a large amount of fat is deposited between the flesh and the skin, which is also trimmed off, and the skeleton, fins, and other offal are inedible, leaving just under 6 pounds of meat from a 22-pound fish.

The sturgeon must die

To obtain the eggs of a sturgeon, the fish is killed. There are attempts to milk them alive, but so far they have not been successful. It would be easy to milk the ovulated eggs, but they are hard, over-mature, and only suitable for reproduction, not for caviar making. Attempts have been made to pump out the eggs with silicone tubes, but there are a lot of broken eggs that are impossible to sort out. Surgery is also out of the question because the ovary has to be opened to retrieve the contents.

Fortunately, fish meat is tasty, not just eggs. It has no fishbone, which is an advantage, but it can be divisive in that it is knitted, so it will never be as crumbly as catfish, for example, and it has a very special, strongly fishy flavor.

Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii).
Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii).

Why is caviar so expensive?

This is mainly because it is challenging to raise sturgeon, which is like fresh water. Beluga, for example, requires 12 years to reach maturity, and it is not even the first egg that becomes caviar. Another aspect is that the fish must be cut alive to produce the eggs. Then cleaning the eggs is very laborious as it is not done by machines but by professionals.

How is caviar made?

In short, they remove the ovaries from the eggs, make a brine solution and soak the eggs in it for 15 minutes, then drain them.

However, it’s not worth experimenting at home unless you’ve caught the caviar yourself, which is very unlikely. There is no way of knowing when the fish was caught, how long it has been there, what temperature it has been at, and how quickly the guts start to deteriorate.

Preparing caviar in the fishing processing plant
Preparing caviar in the fishing processing plant

The beluga is the star

The beluga caviar is so popular because it is large-eyed, spectacular, and delicately firm, but also significantly less fishy than its counterparts. More people eat the softer flavors of fish meat, but softer flavors also win out over mammals – veal is more appealing than beef, and more people eat lamb than sheep.

In addition, the visa/beluga reaches sexual maturity in 25 years, by which time the fish will weigh 150-160 lbs. This could lead to a further price increase in the future because belugas bred in the 1990s as a result of international restocking initiatives will now only be sufficient for breeding, not for caviar production for a long time to come.

How to buy caviar?

If you are offered 30-50 grams of black caviar for under 150 USD, don’t buy it, or don’t buy it as caviar, because it’s not.

Called very small, very red-eyed caviar, available in most domestic shops, they are mostly made from rabbitfish eggs and are so bright because they are colored. They are similar in taste to other eggs, but you shouldn’t use the black ones in a sauce as they will discolor. There’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that they’re called caviar (it’s an international initiative to only call sturgeon eggs caviar, however, red salmon are so much a part of the average caviar image that it’s going to be a long wait before they push through the draft).

Beyond the small-eyed rabbit crayfish, there is a relatively large selection of salmon caviar.

Champagne and caviar

One would think that the reason for this common pairing is prestige. But it’s not. The acidity and high minerality of ice-cold, sparkling champagne go well with the salty taste of caviar.

But cold, rich mineral water or a dry white wine chilled to 12 degrees will also go well with champagne. However, many people swear by a cup of Russian ice-cold vodka, which brings out the flavor of the caviar more.

How to serve and eat caviar?

Caviar is best fresh and raw. It is very important to keep it cold at all times, so it is usually placed in a bowl with ice. Because it reacts with metal, gold, and ivory bowls and spoons used to be used for serving, but nowadays glass is perfectly fine.

As it is expensive, it is mostly eaten as appetizing snacks on small sandwiches and canapés. It goes well with fresh dill and tarragon, lemon, and sour cream, but is also popular served with egg rings.

The Russians traditionally serve it on small pancakes, called blini, but in its absence, it is also delicious on buttered toast. Lemon juice is a must and, of course, it is washed down with vodka. In the Baltic countries, it is eaten with a potato cake. It looks good served in mussel shells.

Another popular dish in Greece and Turkey is tarama, made from fish eggs: the fish eggs are enriched with bread crumbs or mashed potatoes, mixed with sour and spicy cream, and served as a starter on toast or pita bread.

Caviar can also be served with cold (8°C) mineral water and dry white wine (12°C), which are both worth mixing. For two hundred years, the aristocracy has been pairing caviar with sparkling (dry) champagne. A fine and elegant pairing, but there is probably no better accompaniment to caviar than a cup of ice-cold Russian vodka, sipped before the first spoonful (and repeated to taste).

And what flavors go well with caviar?

Common accompaniments are lemon, sour cream, boiled egg, avocado, potato, and salmon. But caviar piled on the simplest buttered toast is also a great choice.

Caviar is a delicacy that goes with almost everything. Just as you can pair meat perfectly with fish or crab, a sweet with little salt flakes, caviar should not be considered a food to be eaten on its own. Besides, you don’t necessarily have to eat a thirty-gram piece of caviar to enjoy its taste, one and a half to three grams is enough to make a dish more interesting and interesting,”. The smaller-meshed – and therefore cheaper – eggs tend to have a stronger flavor, so a small spoonful is enough.
In addition to the fishy taste, the degree of salting should also be taken into account when adding caviar to dishes – capers, for example, should not be salted. Overly salty roe can be washed in cold water and strained, but should not be stored afterward.

At buffets, and even at more elegant dinners, the most common way of serving is to pile caviar in a bowl or put a small spoonful on buttered toast. You can go a long way by serving it on toast with butter, a little chopped onion, a grated boiled egg, and sour cream. The same combination can be used for Russian pancakes, and blini, replacing the toast.

A fillet of fish sautéed in butter – sturgeon will do, but you can also use perch or bass – can be served with a poached egg on top, topped with a little caviar. You can replace the poached egg with a creamy beaten egg, but you can’t go wrong with the egg pairing.

For the more adventurous, you can also serve it with mussels, but don’t add salt, as both ingredients are quite salty. You can also use caviar for tartare steaks, in which case mix the meat with red onion, butter, a little cognac, egg yolk, and chopped capers instead of salt and sprinkle the caviar on top. For the red caviar, you can make a salmon tartare by mixing dill or olives, a little onion, and a little pepper in addition to the chopped salmon. You can also stuff fish with – ravioli style – which you can roll in butter and sprinkle with caviar.

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