Devon 21 January 2000 There are many things
in the world that Ive never tasted or had a chance to experience,
and there are many things that I am not that fussed if I never try
in my life (goats testicles, fermented fish innards, diverse
roots and tubers, for example). But I have never had the opportunity
to experience real sturgeon caviar, and given that this is considered
one of the great delicacies of the world, the occasion of some friends
birthdays seemed a suitable time to rectify this ommision.
on investigating further, we discovered that the costs for beluga,
sevruga and oscietra caviars were even more extortionate than imagined.
How to choose, how much, how to enjoy? I therefore consulted my expert
colleagues on The Guild of Food Writers email discussion list and
was given a plethora of advice.
Earl of Bradford, for example, said, As, during one glorious
period of my life, I was the owner of the Caviar Bar, late 1970s,
on Knightsbridge Green in London, where at one time we had over a
quarter of a ton of caviar in our fridge I feel reasonably qualified
to advise on what has now become a ridiculously overrated and expensive
product. Sadly, thanks to over-fishing, indiscriminate poaching and
pollution, there will soon be virtually no sturgeon left in the Caspian
Shaida, from Andorra, offered: "Oh dear, now I feel guilty, when
I think of all those wonderful years that I lived in Iran and so often
enjoyed caviar. Did I really contribute towards the destruction of
the Sturgeon? Anyway, a very pleasant man , probably crooked though
not very, because he never cheated us with any inferior stuff, would
frequently come around to the office. We used to get a tin of 300
grams as a starter for a small dinner party of six-eight, or 500 grams
when we put it on the table for self service. Thin toast, lemon juice,
chopped boiled eggs and finely chopped onions were on the side, but
that was just to make it go further and make it seem more festive.
The sophisticated among us would drink vodka with it. For myself,
I would just spread it thickly on thinly sliced lightly buttered white
bread. And I dont think I EVER said Oh, no, not caviar
Fletcher, from Auchtermuchty, said, Rather as a last minute
idea, I served caviar with my Millenium fish course and I was surprised
how well it worked, but neither could I afford not find at the last
minute, enough sturgeon caviar for 14, but saw some herring caviar
[called avruga] in my very good fish merchant in Perth.
I'd tried this at the BBC GF Show and liked it. It is completely unlike
that salty jet black or bright red bobbly lumpfish "caviar",
but both in appearance and taste resembles sturgeon. I would be really
interested to try them together as I am sure there must actually be
a big difference. May I suggest that you do a comaprison, Marc? Then
you can have plenty of caviar and an interesting time.
were not, unfortunately, able to procure caviar either by the quarter
ton, or even by Margarets half kilo. But we did take up Nicholas
idea to have a caviar tasting, and she, very kindly, sent us some
of the avruga herring caviar to include.
what we had was this: 50 g jar of sevruga caviar, 2 x 125 g. jars
of 'avruga' golden herring caviar; 100 g. jar of keta salmon caviar;
100 g. jar of trout caviar. The champagnes were René Beaudouin
'Cuvée Gidleigh Park'; Lanson Black Label; Krug Grand Cuvée;
gathering, we began the evening nibbling on a bit of oak-smoked salmon
on brown bread, and hardboiled quails' eggs topped with various caviars
(but not the sevruga), together with the René Beaudouin, an
extremely elegant yet richly flavoured 100% chardonnay grower's champagne
from the Côte des Blancs. It made the Lanson which followed
taste positively thin and disappointingly aggressive (though the procession
of bubbles from the grande marque was enviably fine and unending,
something even the best growers' champagnes usually struggle to achieve).
the blind caviar tasting. The four caviars were arranged around the
edge of each plate like dabs of paint on a painter's palette, and
in the middle a generous spoonful of the most sublimely simple but
exquisite sauce that Nichola had given us the recipe for: simply a
couple of bunches of washed and trimmed watercress coarsely chopped
then placed in a blender together with Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil
and a generous splosh of good aceto balsamico. We had some Ukranian
light rye bread on hand, but nothing else at this stage of the evening.
Tasting sheets were provided, and I offered wine writer Fiona Becketts
suggestion that the sexiest way to taste caviar is to place
it on your (or someone else's hand) between thumb and forefinger,
then lick it off. So we tasted the caviars naked and unadorned
in this fashion, one by one.
trout was pale orange, with grainy and rather hard balls, slightly
fishy in aroma, and with a crunchy, salty, seaweedy character which
four of us enjoyed but not me: personally, I did not like the crunchy
texture, and found it too fishy. The salmon, slightly darker orange
in colour, bigger balls that were softer and more slippery, was less
strong, quite delicious, with a delicate flavour that was reasonably
long in the mouth. Everyone liked this.
these two samples were simply tasters to whet the appetite for the
main night's event: the comparison between the similar looking 'avrguga'
and the real (and very expensive) sevruga caviars. First the 'avruga'
(and I reiterate that we tasted blind -- except for myself, no one
knew which was which): almost ebony black in colour, smallish eggs,
rather soft in texture, with an intriguing smoky aroma, and richly
fruity and gamey flavours. The sevruga by contrast was paler, with
smaller and finer eggs (is fineness of eggs an attribute of the best
caviars, I wonder?). The aroma was rather pungent and concentrated,
and it was by far the saltiest and also the longest and most complex,
the sort of multi-layered taste that you can roll around your mouth
finding greater nuances of flavour and complexity.
the sevruga, we enjoyed a flûte of Krug: the comparison between
the earlier champagnes and the Krug was similar to that of the earlier
caviars and the sevruga: entirely on another plane, with so much greater
concentration, richness, and flavour. Yet, whereas it would have been
impossible (I guess) for anyone not to enjoy the Krug over the other
wines (so harmonious and elegant, the biscuity, wood character balanced
with a freshness and vivacity that was astonishing), it was not so
clear with the caviars. In fact, three of us (Kim, Karen and Wendy)
preferred the avruga, while David and I preferred the sevruga. But
of course, I knew which was which so perhaps my vote really shouldn't
actually I can see why the others preferred the 'avruga' : again a
wine analogy is apt. For if in character it was rather like a new
world Chardonnay, the sevruga was more akin to a grand cru Chassagne-Montrachet.
The former revealed its fruity flavours and smokey, gamey character
more obviously and upfront, whereas the sevruga was more intriguing
and challenging, with complex minerally and vegetal high notes emerging
from the bass undertones of its richly pungent body of flavour.
then tried all four caviars again, first with Nicola's sauce, which
everyone loved (in fact for some, it was the star of the evening,
enjoyed simply mopped up with the rye bread), and then with blinis
and crème fraîche topped with a generous teaspoonful
of the caviars. It is easy to see why this combination is considered
such a classic, and indeed all four caviars were delicious served
in this way. I thought that it would kill off the subtleties of the
sevruga, but in fact the sharpness and coolness of the cream seemed
to intensify the salty richness of the caviar and tasted this way,
it was definitely the favourite though the 'avruga' was a very close
second. By now we were cleansing our palates with Perrier Jouët,
fresh, lemony, rather one-dimensional after the Krug, but, honestly,
by this point, who cared?
had, however, actually eaten very little, and with this in mind, I
had, in keeping with the theme of fish eggs, prepared a dish suggested
by another member of the Guild, Josephine Bacon, of hardboiled eggs
topped with smoked cod's roe whizzed in the blender together with
a generous pot of single cream. When I did this, it was still a little
too stiff, so I added a good few measures of a dry Sercial madeira,
and indeed the complex, cooked, raisiny flavours of that glorious
and undervalued fortified wine blended well with the smoky flavour
of the roe. I also had on hand some freshly boiled cod's roe that
I intended to dredge in egg and seasoned flour, then fry lightly and
serve with a squeeze of lemon. But by this stage in the evening, we
were completely 'egged out'.
finish, all we could manage was a spoonful of Hill Station's exquisite
cardamon ice cream...
to recap: both the trout and salmon caviars were enjoyable, especially
with blinis, but neither were major league. Nichola's 'avruga' was
loved by everyone and was the real star of the evening (even though
it costs no more than the first two). The sevruga, like old fine wines,
is probably best appreciated by connoisseurs who can distinguish its
more subtle and complex character. For our money, however, and given
that the former is probably only a tenth of the price of the latter,
and based on the sheer pleasure principle, we would certainly purchase
and serve the avruga again. I would probably not buy sevruga
again, but I would certainly never turn it down given the opportunity
taste it again (especially if someone else is paying, which is what
food writer Richard Erlich opined).
most disappointed of all in our tasting was our son 12 year old son
Guy, who has quite sophisticated tastes, and had been so looking forward
to the caviar tasting. However, he discovered on first bite if not
sight that fish eggs of whatever provenance or colour are simply not
for him: though he wanted to enjoy the caviars, he had trouble with
the looks, the texture, the aroma, and the flavour, and so retired
upstairs to sulk on his Playstation...
another Guild member said, chacun à son goût.