Let Them Eat Caviar!
The Famed Delicacy of the Rich & Royal is Popping Up on Menus Everywhere
Caviar was once reserved for emperors, czars and kings. Years ago, when Russian caviar first appeared on menus at tony American restaurants, it was priced beyond the reach of the common man. Who knew that one day it would be sold on Amazon? Caviar is no longer reserved for royalty, and the cost is no longer prohibitive. That’s great news because it’s one of the hot ticket menu items of 2018.
Perhaps a Russian czar could tell the difference, but hackleback, paddlefish, bowfin, trout and other caviars from American waters have found favor with chefs and their patrons across the nation. Chefs often present a selection of imported and domestic caviars, with choices for every taste and purse.
Who’s Doing What with Caviar
John Critchley is executive chef at Siren by Robert Wiedmaier, a gorgeous, trend-setting seafood restaurant in Washington, D.C. Critchley wants to make caviar more approachable.
“Caviar prices are coming down (because they are) being produced in many countries across the world,” explains Critchley. “We source from different places because sustainability is important to us. We serve our caviar with blinis (white chocolate, potato and buckwheat), crème fraiche, red onion, chives and an egg.”
Siren currently features imperial white sturgeon, royal baika and French trout caviar. The trout is a less expensive option. “The berries are small and the flavor is clean, not fishy,” describes the chef.
“We have created some unusual presentations as well, such as our ‘black pearl,’ which is a half-ounce of royal shassetra encased in foie gras, and savory little bites that we call caviar cookies. A little sweetness balances the saltiness of the caviar very nicely.”
Juliana and Stefano Roman are the owners of PR Italian Bistro, a northern Italian-focused eatery ranked as one of Chicago’s best bistros by CBS television.
“Stefano loves to add a little something extra to his homemade creations to delight our guests,” says Juliana Roman. “For example, we serve a brunch frittata topped with American hackleback sturgeon caviar. It’s one of our best sellers.” Hackleback is comparable to osetra caviar from the Caspian sea. The black berries are small and firm, with a nutty, sweet flavor.
Pops for Champagne in Chicago offers four caviar varieties, two imported and two domestic. “Our paddlefish sturgeon caviar comes from the Mississippi River,” says Chef Jay Shindler.
“It is similar to sevruga from the Caspian sea, with small berries, dark steel grey color and complex yet mild flavor. We also offer a more affordable trout caviar from the state of Washington that is very good.” At Pops, caviar is served with the classic setup: toast points, crème fraiche, chopped egg, chives, red onion and cucumber.
“We use salmon caviar atop our smoked salmon plate. It’s a beautiful color and the berries are quite large. It’s very salty with a distinctive salmon flavor, which some of our customers relish.”
Caviar is right at home atop sushi, lending importance and unmistakable flavor. At Sushi Muramoto in Madison, Wis., tobiko (flying fish roe) adds mild smoky taste and a lovely crunch to many of the specialty rolls on the menu. Tobiko eggs are small with a pretty red-orange color. Squid ink is added if black roe is desired; wasabi is used to color the roe green and add a bit of heat.
The Caviar Connection
There are scores of excellent domestic and global caviar producers and marketers American chefs can tap. Your sales consultant is a great resource to make a caviar connection.
Beverage note: In addition to pairing caviar with Champagne, vodka and dry white wine are considered perfect beverage mates.
Serving note: It is recommended to serve caviar with a mother-of-pearl spoon, which will not transfer unwanted flavors into the roe because it too came from the sea.
Photo courtesy of PR Italian Bistro