"I'd rather have a hot dog than caviar." That's how I feel about caviar, so, when I came across that quote by famed Colombian race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya, I had to share it. Don't get me wrong, caviar is not on my 'foods I hate' list, I just like a long list of other things more, and, I love the humorous comparison. From a perceived foodie standpoint, caviar vs. a hot dog is the difference between "classy" and "trashy", which makes me feel a bit naughty in a Groucho Marx sort of way. That said, a lot of people adore caviar and all the ritualistic glitz and glamor associated with it, so, every now and then, on appropriate occasions, I serve it. Why wouldn't I:
For a hot dog you need a roll to place it on and some condiments to top it with. For caviar you need some form of bread to place it on and some condiments to accompany it. That said, hot dogs, one of my favorite foods, usually get served as a meal at super-casual get-togethers and caviar usually gets served as an hors d'oeuvre at super-fancy ones. While a great majority of people serve caviar for Christmas or New Years, in my house it's been a Thanksgiving tradition. It's festive and it sets the tone for the upcoming evening feast. Everything can be prepped ahead of time, which frees me up for the "matters at hand" and everyone (sans me) loves it!
Perfect for one of our busiest food holidays: Thanksgiving!
A bit about caviar: The word "caviar", lightly-salted roe (fish eggs), comes from the Turkish word "khavyar" and dates back centuries. There are many types of caviar, but "true caviar" comes from sturgeon, which has been a big part of the Middle Eastern and Eastern European diet for almost all of their history, and, caviar from the Caspian Sea and rivers of Russia has always been considered uber-premium. Because I am not a lover of caviar, I'll let the aficionados and caviar connoisseurs supply the detailed characteristics concerning size, color, texture and taste. That said, in order of high-end to low-end pricing, there four types of sturgeon caviar: beluga, sevruga, oestra and ship. Even the experts will tell you, when choosing caviar, let your palate, not the price, be your guide. I am a prime example as I find some of the inexpensive caviar choices (the Japanese black tobiko roe and American Alaskan red salmon roe for example), more to my liking. Once upon a time in the Middle East and Europe, caviar was reserved for royalty and their guests. Here in 19th century America, when our waters were full of sturgeon, salty caviar was sold cheap or served free in saloons to get customers to drink more beer!
A bit about caviar utensils and etiquette: Just like fish and seafood, all caviar should be very fresh, so, purchase it from a reliable source within 1-3 days of serving it. Because heat and oxygen are caviars worst enemies, it should be kept refrigerated and unopened until just prior to serving it in a non-metallic bowl nestled in a larger bowl of cracked or crushed ice. Since metal affects the taste of caviar, caviar spoons are typically made of mother-of-pearl, bone, tortoise shell, glass, wood or plastic.
As for what to drink with caviar, while I like fine French champagne as much as the next person, no self-respecting gal of Russian descent would ever serve her caviar with anything other than iced shots of the finest frozen Russian vodka available. "Nasdrovia!" "To health!"
My guidelines for creating a classic caviar service.
It's all about the caviar baby, it's the star of the show, so, traditionally caviar is accompanied by items that will enhance its flavor, not interfere with it. When it comes to the foil, meaning the bland, edible, bread vessel it will be placed atop, while toast points or water biscuits are perfectly acceptable, purists all agree that Russian buckwheat blini (small, 2"-2 1/2"-round yeast-risen pancakes) are considered classic.
My recipe ~ Please Pass the Caviar: Russian Buckwheat Blini ~ is in Categories 1, 12, 14 & 21
Estimating how much caviar to buy: There are, give or take, 8-10, 1/2 teaspoon servings of caviar in 1 ounce. That means, the 2-ounce jar of caviar pictured here should be enough to make 16-20 appetizers -- if everyone plays by the 1/2 teaspoonful rule. I plan on 2 ounces of caviar serving 4 people.
Tip: Because caviar is best served opened fresh (within the hour) and chilled, I purchase a few smaller containers, rather than one large one, and refresh it as needed.
What to serve with caviar: Once you've decided on the foil (which in my case is always buckwheat blini), plan and prep the accompaniments. Sour cream (or creme fraiche if you are French), chopped hard-cooked egg (whites and yolks chopped and served separately), minced red onion and minced chives are mandatory. I also include, for those not fond of caviar and to stretch the amount of caviar consumed, small chunks of pickled herring and thin slices of smoked salmon. Other options, but not my favorites, are lemon wedges and capers -- acid and brine in conjunction with caviar is not my ideal cup of tea.
Pick up a linen cocktail napkin, a blini & build an appetizer:
Pass the Buckwheat Blini: We are Serving Caviar: Recipe yields instructions for buying and creating a classic/traditional caviar service.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; saucepan for hard-cooking eggs; caviar server; caviar spoon; set of small glass bowls and spoons; serving tray
Cook's Note: On any Russian table, besides vodka, there will be always be sour cream ("smetana"), and, many times it will be mixed into a fresh salad -- Russians love salad ("salat"). If you chop the ingredients for my ~ Creamy Russian Cucumber & Radish Salad ~ small enough, place it in a small bowl, it's perfect to add to the caviar service. Get the recipe in Categories 4, 10, 12 or 14!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)