Caviar - More Than Just Sturgeon Eggs
You either love or hate the idea of eating caviar.
Basically you are eating the eggs (roe) of sturgeon, a fish found in various parts of the world but most notably in the Caspian Sea near Russia. This is where you find the largest and highest quality caviar and the most expensive.
You can also find Chinese and American caviar but they are smaller and don't have the quality or flavor of caviar coming from the Caspian Sea.
The eggs are harvested from sturgeon and sold with very little processing except for the addition of salt. The flavor is fishy and sometimes described as briny and can be an acquired taste.
I remember my first experience with caviar was much like Tom Hanks in the movie Big but now I love it.
3 Main Types of Caviar
The three most popular types of caviar come from three different sturgeons thus creating a common grading system for buying these highly prized eggs. Each has its own unique qualities but which one you like depends on your own personal tastes.
Beluga - the most expensive of the three and also the largest. Beluga sturgeon can reach 19 feet in length and weigh more than one ton. They produce the largest eggs that are a range from gray to black in color. They are also the most rare of the three adding to the expense and are not related in any way to the Beluga whale.
Osetra - another large sturgeon reaching an average 7 feet in length and weighing in at over 500 pounds. The eggs from the Osetra sturgeon range in color from yellowish gray to dark brown with the gold Osetra, also know as "royal caviar" being the rarest . Osetra caviar is known for having a stronger flavor than Beluga most likely because it swims in deeper, colder waters providing a different diet.
Sevruga - the smallest with the briniest flavor. Not as expensive as the other two, the roe ranges in color from medium gray to black. It is the most abundant and can weigh up to 150 pounds.
Other Types of Caviar
Just to confuse things more, other types of fish including salmon, lumpfish and whitefish call their eggs caviar. You often see them used in sushi bars and in supermarkets.
They are inexpensive compared to Caspian Sea caviar and expect for cooking purposes should be avoided. Those small black eggs from lumpfish you find in every supermarket may look like the real thing, but they don't have the flavor.
How to Buy Caviar
Caviar is processed by straining and sorting the eggs by size and color. A mild salt (Malossol) is added to the eggs to prevent freezing. The eggs are then packed in 4 pound tins containers and exported.
An importer repackages the caviar into smaller tins or jars that you can purchase at high end markets. The typical size is 1 ounce containers.
IMPORTANT - Beluga caviar always comes in blue tins, Osetra in yellow tins and Sevruga caviar in red tins.
IMPORTANT: The US Fish and Wildlife has stopped the import of Beluga caviar into the United States to help rebuild the diminishing stocks in the Caspian Sea.
If you find any Beluga caviar being sold here in the U.S., it was harvested before the fall of 2005 or brought in by poacher illegally.
Fresh Beluga is not currently available.
Do Your Homework - This stuff is expensive so learn everything you can about the various types of caviar and their different grades.
Find a distributor of imported caviar you trust and don't be afraid to ask questions based on what you've learned. If they don't want to answer your questions, find some place else to spend your money.
Buy Only Fresh Caviar - Because caviar is extremely perishable, once it is imported and repackaged, the shelf life is only about 3 to 4 weeks unopened. Once opened, it's good for about three days and that's if refrigerated at an ideal temperature of 30 degrees F. So ask about dates.
Only Buy As Much As You Are Going To Serve - There is basically no shelf life on expensive caviar, two or three days so plan to plan accordingly.
Don't Buy Caviar in a Supermarket - In general, most caviar sold in supermarkets is not what you are looking for. You must go to a high end gourmet store or establishment that specializes in caviar.
Lucky for us, there are places online now that sell quality caviar. Either way, make sure the establishment you are dealing with is knowledgeable about caviar.
Look for the term "Malossol" - it means lightly salted and is a good indication that the caviar is high-end.
Taste Before Buying - Not always possible, especially over the Internet, but some top dealers will allow you to sample before purchasing.
Look for Discounts - The holidays is a big caviar buying time of the year and you often find caviar on sale. Just be careful you are not buying old or inferior product.
Don't Buy Black Market Caviar - there is more and more illegal caviar on the market today and it may eventually ruin the availability of sturgeon caviar sometime in the near future. Be sure to ask your supplier if the caviar you are buying is legally imported.
Where to Buy Online
What's It Going To Cost
Prices will vary depending on they type you buy, where you buy it & how much you buy. Most likely you will be buying it in the popular 1 ounce jar or tin and here's what you can expect to pay:
Beluga Caviar - not currently available according to the US Fish and Wildlife
Osetra Caviar - Ranges from $90 to $140 per ounce
Sevruga Caviar - Ranges from $95 to $ $125 per ounce
Storing Fresh Caviar
Caviar does not have a very long shelf life. Once opened, you only have 3-4 days, max, before your expensive caviar is no longer edible. The ideal temperature for storing caviar is about 30 degrees F.
My refrigerator is set for about 33 degrees F so I would need to store caviar in the coldest section. Even so, I try to only buy as much as I will need for my party.
Some experts suggest wrapping opened tins in plastic wrap to reduce the chance of oxidation. My suggestion is to buy only what you will eat in one day, so you won't even have to worry about getting out the plastic wrap.
Do not freeze caviar except for domestic Golden Whitefish caviar and Salmon caviar. These two types freeze well but all others will not.
Freezing destroys their delicate texture, leaving your caviar mushy and without the "pop" that you expect when you eat high-quality, fresh caviar.
How Much To Serve - really depends on who you are serving it to but figure on 1 ounce per person if serving alone and ½ ounce person if serving on top of hors d'oeuvres or garnishes for canapes.
How to Serve It - Keep it simple and let the caviar do the talking. Placing the tin in a bed of crushed ice not only looks elegant, it helps keep the fragile eggs fresh.
Mother-of Pearl Spoons - I have read you should only use natural materials for serving caviar like mother-of pearl, bone, horn because metal will oxidize the caviar when it comes in contact with it. I'm not sure how that can be true especially since caviar is stored in metal tins.
I have also read that this is only true with sterling silver. Either way, the spoons are not that expensive especially when you consider the cost of the caviar. Plus they look great next to the tin of caviar.
What to Serve - The classic accompaniments are toast points, potatoes & blini (small pancakes). Sometimes you will find creme fraiche served too. I suggest "less is more". Let the natural briny flavors of the expensive caviar assault your taste buds. Don't cover them up with a bunch of distractions.
What to Drink - The classic drink with fresh caviar is ice-cold vodka because of its neutral taste. Some people enjoy a glass of champagne with their caviar. It's up to your personal preferences. Try to avoid any drink that will alter or overwhelm the clean flavors of the caviar.
- 1 envelope active dry yeast 2¼ teaspoons
- 1 cup warm water 115°F.
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups warm milk or a little more as needed
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 egg yolks beaten
- 4 tablespoons sugar or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
- 2 egg whites
- peanut oil for frying
- melted butter for brushing
- In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, warm water, sugar and first measure of flour. Cover and set aside until doubled, about one hour.
- Beat in all the rest of the ingredients, except for the egg whites, using the lesser amount of flour. Once incorporated, whisk until smooth and then cover. Set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours.
- Stir the batter well again, recover, and let rise once more for about 45 minutes.
- Whisk the whites to soft peaks and fold into the batter. Don’t whip the egg whites before you are ready for them, as they won’t hold. Let the batter rest for another ten minutes.
- Heat a well-seasoned 8 inch cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium heat.
- Rub the pan with peanut oil. Ladle in about ¼ cup of batter, tilting and swirling the pan to completely cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of batter. Cook until the top of the blin is bubbly and the bottom is golden brown.
- Carefully turn and cook the other side for about 30 seconds, brushing some melted butter on the cooked side.
- Repeat with another ¼ cup of batter. Taste this one (the first is generally for the cook) and check to see if it needs more salt or sugar. If the pancake breaks when you try to fold it, whisk the reserved ¼ cup of flour into the batter. If the pancake is too thick, whisk in a little more warm milk.
- Continue making blini until you have used all the batter. Serve hot or warm with crème fraiche and caviar.
- To make crème fraiche, whisk 2 tablespoons of buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy cream. If you can find it, use pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized cream.
- Let the mixture sit out at room temperature until nicely thickened. This could take up to 36 hours, but check it every 12 hours.
- Once thickened, refrigerate until cold.
A also find interesting some other points, speaking about caviar.
First, about metal cutlery. Avoid if possible sterling silver. It changes the taste of caviar. The tin does not change caviar taste cause it is made for this product, it is not a singular tin at all.
Secondly, my suggestion. I enjoy much more having caviar on somebody else skin...Just "serve", wait it gets skin temperature and eat it.
Thanks anyway for the helpful explanation!
Third, Don't buy beluga, there is not real beluga in the market.
And finally, and maybe the most important....Try to read "CITES" legend written in the labels. It will tell you about date of production, country of origin, species, and if it has been manipulated or not.
I've found Black River Caviar out of Breckenridge Colorado to be an excellent retailer!
This article advises people to avoid buying the relatively inexpensive "Lumpfish Variety" of caviar roe that you see readily in most supermarkets on the shelf next to the cans of tuna and sardines. I totally disagree ! Not everyone has deep pockets and can afford the very high-priced, high-end varieties of sturgeon caviars. If you like caviar, or think you might, and want to try it, why deny yourself ? Salmon roe caviar is also readily available and affordable at about $ 8.99 for a 2 ounce jar. A little goes a long way and it is a great breakfast or brunch food. Serve it on a toasted bagel or bread, atop cream cheese, with sides of sliced ripe tomatoes, red onion, some olives, a good piece of cheese, etc. Many people think they do not like caviar...because they do not know how to use it ! If you want black or red caviar from lumpfish, look for the brand Roland. The grains are big, firm and not too salty. Avoid the Romanoff brand, the grains are small, salty, watery and mushy ! A jar of Roland roes in only about $7.99 for 2 ounces and goes a long way ! My feeling is that if you like salty foods and fish products like anchovies or sardines...you will love caviar, too ! However, not just spread on a dry cracker, you have to be creative and imaginative with it.
I agree totally with Madge ! I purchase the Roland brand red and black lumpfish for "caviar" in my local Western-Beef supermarket and love it. It only costs $6.99 for a 2 oz. (57g) jar and my guests think they are indulging in a super-expensive delicacy ! I store it in the refrigerator (however, product is not perishable),and always serve the glass jar cold on a bed of crushed ice in a nice bowl. We use it for weekend "high-end" brunch with smoked salmon, toast points (or bagels), GOOD,sharp Cheddar or Gouda cheese, fresh scallions, sliced ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, sliced red or white onions...whatever you like ! Believe me, I get no complaints and my friends and family devour it !
That all sounds great except for where you suggest you are fooling your guests into thinking they are having high-end caviar. Come clean girl, there's no shame! I mean unless they're snobs why would they care.
I do not think the writer you commented about was suggesting you"fool" your guests or was suggesting you be deceitful. If you buy the relatively inexpensive supermarket grade lumpfish "caviars" and serve them properly, you do not have to brag that it is "Beluga Sturgeon." Most guests will not ask what kind of caviar is it, where did you buy it, or how much did it cost ?That is just rude and very offensive!
Or, just eat regular food that tastes great without needing to endanger a species and pretend like a tiny seafood pop rock is God's best gift to the "rich" man!
Have only ever eaten supermarket caviar. Wasn't aware that according to the caviar connoisseurs i was eating garbage. Ignorance is bliss but now that the elite have opened my eyes to reality, i'll have to cross my fingers that the real deal will be on the menu at my companies next xmas party, otherwise i'll have to stick with the garbage...
Im eating lumpfish caviar right now with crackers. Its delicious! Im assuming the real thing tastes 100 times better.
I have eaten top end Iranian caviar in the past. I found it enjoyable but not as amazing as some people would suggest. I have just eaten a 100 gram jar of Lidl De-Luxe Lump fish row with some Greek olives. It was just as tasty as the Iranian caviar but a lot more enjoyable for being a fraction of the cost.
To Tony, NO....you are not eating junk and price and clout are not always the determining factors if something is good or not!Lumpfish caviars can be excellent and a great value ! Do not let the pretentious"food-snobs" tell you what is acceptable and what is not. Sure, the extremely pricey Beluga and other rare sturgeon caviars are in a class by themselves....but at $ 350. and up per ounce, are out of reach for most people. NOTE: I went to a high-end wedding and they expensive Ostera black caviar there and the taste was not much different than the supermarket lumpfish roe at around $4.00 per ounce.Sure, it was better, creamier and more subtle,but look at the price difference! I mean,really, how much different or better can one fish egg be from another...and they are all preserved in salt...HELLO ?
Having had bit of the stuff here at high end Russian places in NYC and at a party in Moscow there is huge difference . The cheap stuff is harsh and gritty. The expensive is smooth silky and sublime. I would go with Roe ( ORANGE ) and not try to pass off the Beluga faux stuff. Blinis with cream fresh and a little egg or red onion is great. I am pretty certain I will never have the good stuff again, I will never go back to Russia, and most supermarket stuff is like wanting artisan produce cheese and settling for Wispride, DON'T DO IT!
Caviar sold in supermarkets is not what you are looking for. I don't like to be told what I want or what I'm looking for.
I can't afford "real" caviar. So what am I going to do? I just enjoyed eating the bottom line Romanoff lumpfish with crackers and creamcheese. And I had a nice laugh from some of the comments.
Don’t know high end caviar from the garbage, but my wife loved the jar of Romanoff Black Lumpfish caviar I bought her. She even makes her own caviar from salmon roe. I’m not crazy about her caviar, she loves it. That being said, I tried a little of the caviar I bought her, and it was pretty good. From what I read in the previous reviews, if you think I’m going to spend $350 and up for some fish eggs, I’ll stick to Romanoff Black Lumpfish! Actually, I’d really prefer a good hamburger! But we catch salmon every year, and the roe is cheap! So you all go ahead and spend however much you want, and we’ll just be satisfied with what we have, including hamburgers!
G. Stephen Jones
I’m a bartender and my girlfriend is a teacher, so we’re definitely not rich... but we’re perfectly happy with a tin of romanoff, some toast points and a bottle of $15 bubbly.
This article says "avoid" the supermarket varieties of inexpensive lump-fish, capellin and whiting roe caviars and gives them a bad rap ! These usually cost less than $ 10. per 2 oz. jar,.However,not everyone can afford the exorbitant prices of "real" caviar. And while the article is geared to true caviar aficionados and high-end gourmets,the cheaper varieties can actually be very good and allow those on a budget to enjoy a very similar experience eating caviar and impressing their guests.
G. Stephen Jones
Great comment Wonda Anne. This post was geared more for people looking for a higher end caviar and does say the inexpensive lump fish and whiting roe is fine for cooking but will not be as good as more expensive caviar for serving on their own. Also, since I wrote this article, more and more supermarkets, especially those like Wegmans and Whole Foods are selling better quality inexpensive substitutions. I think when I wrote this post, I didn't want people to buy supermarket alternatives and think it is anything like the more expensive stuff.
I was really just looking for something new to eat while I am working at home during Covid time. I find I am spending more on better quality coffee, sardines, tuna and the like during this period. The local international store sells salmon and pike eggs which I assume is probably for sushi. I can get Romanoff Black Lumpfish Caviar in the next town for less than $10. I can get more expensive caviar from the gourmet shop but I would be the only one eating it as my wife hates anything seafood and of course, we can't have people over.
Is Wegman's Osetra Caviar (in a blue tin) at ~$100/oz not the real thing?
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Michael, great question and I'm not sure. I wrote this post years ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import of all beluga products from the Caspian Sea. I think that is still the law but now you have companies around the world producing farm raised sturgeon with China being the largest producer. I did look at the Wegman's website and found Caviar Russe Caviar, Salmon and Caviar Russe Caviar, Black Tobiko which are flying fish eggs but didn't see the Osetra Caviar. There is an interesting article at Bloomberg back in June of 2019 that describes a company in Florida who hand-carried baby beluga sturgeon, each weighing 3 to 10 kilograms (7 to 22 pounds) on flights from Russia to Florida. It started an sturgeon aqua-farm and is now selling farm raised beluga sturgeon but it is very expensive. The article is worth checking out. I suggest you speak to the Wegman's fishmonger where they sell the Osetra and ask them where it is from. I'm sure it will be farm raised and not from wild sturgeon. Please let me know what you find out.
I agree, I just bought Roland's Red Lumpfish, and it took me less than two days to polish it off. I'll be buying it again in the future, but for now, it was delicious. Totally worth it someone who can't drop $100 on 2 oz of garnish.