Don't let caviar intimidate you. Our caviar guide will answer all of your questions about this delicacy.
Perhaps no food is as glamorous as caviar. Those glossy black eggs instantly bring to mind elegant dinners and black-tie affairs, but caviar is actually easy to enjoy at home. Our complete caviar guide will show you how to eat, serve, and store caviar.
What Is Caviar?
Put simply, eggs from the white sturgeon fish are what define caviar, in the strictest sense. The most common — and highest quality — way to preserve caviar is through the malossol process. The eggs are cured with salt, which preserves them and adds a fantastic flavor. While all caviar comes from white sturgeon, many other kinds are available today, and each has its own flavor profile.
What Are the Different Types of Caviar?
Beluga is the most famous type of caviar, but importing it in the US is illegal due to overfishing. Only one domestic producer — Marky's Caviar — produces true Beluga caviar. (Marky's imported young fish before the ban, and it has taken close to 20 years to bring the caviar to market.) Other widely available types of caviar include Kaluga, Siberian, Ossetra, and plain white sturgeon caviar.
Any “caviar” that comes from a different fish — including salmon, trout, and herring — can only be called roe, not caviar. Roe is the generic term for fish eggs. Much like all Champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, all caviar is roe but not all roe is caviar. Other types of roe are less expensive than caviar, and they range in sizes and flavors.
White sturgeon are usually grown in aquafarms in the US, Europe, Israel, and China. Importing wild caviar in the US is illegal because the white sturgeon is an endangered species. These fish are slow to grow and can live for decades, and it will take years for the population to recover from the effects of overfishing.
How to Serve Caviar
You must keep caviar cold when serving it. The most elegant way to do so is with a proper caviar server. These servers include two bowls: a small bowl for caviar that nestles within a larger bowl filled with ice. If you don't have a caviar server, you can place the tin on ice in a small bowl.
It's very important to use a spoon made from a neutral material, such as mother-of-pearl, horn, or wood. Metal spoons can add a metallic taste to the caviar, which overwhelms the delicate flavor. If you only have a metal spoon, don't worry — it won't instantly ruin your caviar. If you use the spoon just to scoop the caviar and don't leave it sitting in the caviar tin, you'll be fine.
How to Eat Caviar
There are several ways to enjoy caviar. The most popular ways are to do “caviar bumps” and to serve caviar on blini.
How to Do a Caviar Bump
A caviar bump is the best way to enjoy the pure flavors of caviar. Simply scoop a little caviar and place it on the back of your hand between the knuckles of your thumb and index finger. If the caviar has been on ice and is cold to the touch, this skin contact will gently warm the caviar, releasing more of its oils and delicate flavors. Let the caviar sit on the back of your hand for 10-20 seconds, then lick it off, like you're licking salt for a shot of tequila. Finally, use your tongue to crush the eggs on the roof of your mouth. This will break the eggs and release the oils and the flavors inside. Savor the caviar, then swallow. There's no need to chew.
How to Eat Caviar on Blini
Many people associate caviar with a full spread, including blini (little pancakes), crème fraîche, chopped hard-boiled egg, red onion, and more. However, all of these additions mask the caviar's natural flavors, so we don't recommend a full caviar service. If you prefer to enjoy caviar on blini, simply spread a little bit of crème fraîche onto the blini, top with caviar, and enjoy. It can be difficult to put the caviar onto the crème fraîche without dipping your spoon into it, which is why I recommend using two mother-of-pearl spoons. You can use one to push the caviar onto the blini without mixing it into the crème fraîche. Another fun way to eat caviar is with crème fraîche and potato chips.
What to Drink With Caviar
There are two main caviar pairings. The French way is with Champagne or sparkling wine, the Russian way is with — what else? — chilled vodka. However, you can also pair caviar with several other drinks. What's most important is that you pick a drink with lighter flavors so you don't overwhelm the caviar. Unoaked, dry white wines such as Chablis and Grüner Veltliner make wonderful caviar pairings. Certain red wines also pair beautifully with caviar. For example, Handwritten Wines in California pairs caviar with its Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. To the uninitiated, it may sound like a terrible idea, but it's actually delicious.
How to Cook With Caviar
BOCHAKAREV PHOTOGRAPHY / SHUTTERSTOCK
Caviar is a decadent topping for a baked potato, raw oysters, simple pasta, or even scrambled eggs. All you need to do is add your desired amount of caviar to the top of the finished dish. In Russia, caviar on buttered white bread is a delicacy, and it's certainly one of the easiest ways to prepare caviar.
Unfortunately, fresh caviar doesn't mix well in cocktails. However, there's a new company, Caviar Gems, that sells dehydrated caviar perfect for mixology. It has a long shelf life, too, so you can use it when cooking to add a special touch to a casual meal.
The Best Caviar Companies
There are many incredible caviar companies in the US, from small farms that produce their own caviar, to large brands with enormous selections from around the world. Some of the most well-known caviar companies are Petrossian, which is credited with introducing the Western world to caviar in the early 1900s, Paramount, Marky's Caviar, and Caviar Russe. Each of these companies has very strict quality standards and longstanding relationships with top caviar farms. I love their wide selections, which include some difficult-to-find types of caviar.
In recent years, there has been a veritable caviar boom in the US. This, in turn, created many new caviar companies, such as California Caviar Company and Pearl Street Caviar. Island Creek Oysters, one of our preferred oyster companies, sells its own caviar, although it purchases the caviar from select producers in the US and Italy. Famed chef Thomas Keller of Per Se and French Laundry even created his own caviar company, Regiis Ova, to ensure a consistent source of high-quality caviar for his restaurants.
How Long Does Caviar Last?
Unopened, caviar will last for several weeks in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Each tin is marked with an expiration date. Once it is opened, you should eat the caviar within a few days, or a week, max. Accordingly, you want to be careful not to over-order caviar. While 1kg tins of caviar certainly make a statement, unless you have enough people to eat it, the caviar will go bad. It's better to purchase several small tins and open them as needed.