So just how do you eat caviar?
- Stanley Stephan
There were a few posts on this board about an NPR show today about caviar tasting. It also happens there was a caviar station at a brunch I was at Sunday.
Just how are you supposed to eat caviar? The brunch had sour cream, chopped onion, chives, chopped egg whites, chopped egg yolks, capers, and uh, probably a few other things.
I've looked around on the web and there seems to be two schools of thought - garnishments on top or caviar on top.
So do you put the caviar on the toast or blini and top with say sour cream? Or do you put the eggs on the toast and top with caviar?
Do certain garnishments go with different types of caviar? How should you combine the stuff. All together?
Caviar, egg, onion, capers, sour cream? Or say egg and onion and caviar? Capers and sour cream?
Any good books out there about caviar? I'm really not that much of a fan of caviar, but I haven't done a whole lot of tasting given the price. Why do you like caviar?
In my opinion, good caviar is always eaten plain with champagne. Our Russian friends insist on ice cold vodka and that is also traditional.
Restaurants serve caviar with condiments to hide or disguise the flavor and enhance the presentation. Don't be fooled! If you are served condiments, they can be eaten after the caviar is finished. Good caviar should never, ever be contaminated with onion or other strong flavors.
Caviar is served with a spoon or palette in a neutral material (bone, mother of pearl, or plastic) and with blini, plain white bread, or plain crackers.
Use the spoon and serve yourself about a tablespoon; place it directly on the cracker. Eat. If you are lucky enough to be by yourself, the caviar goes directly in your mouth.
I might add that my inlaws introduced me to the pleasures of Wonder Bread and osetra, a stunning combination. Cut off the crusts and squash a pile with your hand. It becomes the perfect vehicle for caviar. I am not kidding.
They also encourage large servings, eaten in a piggish fashion. Wonderful folks.
I lived in Estonia for 4 years, and for the first two years, caviar - the sort in those grey and blue tins - was readily available and incredibly cheap. It might not have been the very best caviar in the world but served with white bread fried in butter and some chopped onion it was absolutely delicious.
Blinis aren't bad either.
I don't have a book to recommend, but I do have some caviar intelligence. I also had a Russian ex-boyfriend who taught me some interesting caviar facts.
1) Garnishments: the rule here is, the better the caviar, the fewer the garnishments. Of course, personal taste always prevails, but really good beluga should shine without all the chopped eggs and onions. If the caviar is large and of good quality, show restraint with the garnishments.
2) Osetra and sevruga can stand a little more garnishment, unless they are of the finest Russian or Iranian quality (read: expensive). This is also the rule with other roes of various types.
3) The traditional Russian way (at least the Russian from St Petersburg that I knew said this -- I realize it's a big country) is to eat it plain on the toast points, or, even more traditionally (and the best way i've ever tasted), plain over hot or cold peeled/boiled/sliced white potatoes. This is a delight you're more likely to get at a sit-down dinner rather than as an appetizer or at a buffet.
4) As far as etiquette goes, the best way to serve caviar is already assembled. This takes the guesswork away from your guests, and I think it is the most courteous. If your caviar is excellent, serve it on plain, lightly buttered crustless white toast points. If your caviar won't stay on the toast point (ie - beluga), a thin layer of sour cream will anchor it, or a small dollop with a small spoonful of caviar on top of it. If your caviar is pretty good and not the fanciest, a thin layer of sour cream on the toast point is perfect, and perhaps one tiny half-round of a raw, red onion ring. Lemon juice is also a nice addition, and will only enhance the flavor of a mediocre-to-good caviar. Of course, one of the nicest appetizer ways (but also labor-intensive) is an appetizer-sized potato latke with a small dollop of sour cream, and small spoonful of caviar. This is excellent. Martha Stewart just had this on her show not too recently. It's delicious, but you have to make the latkes which is kind of a lot of work right before a party. The order is always: toast then sour cream, then caviar on top, with onion, if used, alongside.
5) If you are faced with having to assemble your caviar yourself, look carefully at what you're eating. If the host/hostess serves it from a buffet, make sure it's iced. Caviar can grow a lot of bacteria at room temperature. If it's iced properly, often it will be still in the container it was packed in (this is considered one of the few times you can serve food in the package it came in and be entirely correct!). That's a bonus, if the round is nestled into the bowl of ice you can probably still read the brand/species and country of origin. This will help in your caviar assembly.
My advice is to always make a plain toast point first, to taste the caviar and see how good it is. This is also the most complimentary to your host. This one taste might be enough for some. If you're going back for more make-it-yourself toast points, you can experiment with garnishes if you found the caviar only okay and not stunning. I'd restrain myself to sour cream and, occationally, onion, though. I've never found the other garnishes to do anything but detract. Others may have differing opinions.
6) Some people have started serving caviar with crackers. While this may be delicious depending on the combination, I find at a standup buffet or cocktail party that this is just too impractical. The cracker is too brittle and will break when bitten into (unless it's bite-sized, of course)and then you could possibly shower or smear caviar on the floor or yourself, other guests, etc. Not an ideal experience with an expensive and festive food, that's usually eaten in company :)
7) If you're lucky enough to get buckwheat blinis, which is another traditional way to eat caviar, the same rules as toast points apply. People are more likely to use sour cream with blinis, but it's not absolutely necessary. Also, this truly is a method that's more suited to knife and fork than standing up.
Ah, holiday treats. Enjoy, and let us know how you did, Stanley!
re: Mrs. Smith
Good post. Instead of white toast points I like very thin sliced rounds of baguette, lightly toasted.
Potato slices are easy to do. Use small young potatoes and slice them before cooking, then cook al dente in unsalted water, and after draining from the hot water place the rounds while still hot on paper towels to steam themselves dry. Then they are easier to handle as finger foods.
I am one of those who like a spray of lemon, a few crumbs of onion, and a hint of chopped egg... but just a tiny bit of each to balance out not detract from the caviar. I never use sour cream or butter because I think they are too creamy to suit the caviar. A personal thing.
One important thing is to only use glass, horn, or mother of pearl utensils with caviar. Silver and other metals will cause major taste conflicts.
re: Mrs. Smith
Really great and informative post.
I like the common sense use of the sour cream to help the caviar stick to the toast or blini, if necessary.
Thanks for passing along the Martha Stewart hint. Sounds delicious. But then again, I like potato pancakes.
I saw a few references in my web search about serving caviar with potatoes. Perhaps that's why caviar pairs so well with Vodka which is usually potato based in the Eastern European part of the world.
re: Stanley Stephan
Those potato pancakes are wonderful with caviar, of course---gasp!!--- many people were doing it before Martha!!! IMHO, they don't even need the dollop of sour cream; but then, I go straight to the heart of the matter with bagels and lox as well, eschewing the cream cheese...
Years ago, Jackie O's diet gained noteriety-- nothing all day long, but a single baked potato, topped with sour cream, and heaped with caviar...A woman who cut right to the chase, and went with the classics.