Considered a delicacy throughout the world, caviar is simply sieved and salted fish roe (eggs). Frequently served as a garnish, spread or hors d'oeuvre, caviar is regarded as a luxurious indulgence in the Western world. But in Russia and other cultures, caviar is a common part of wedding and holiday feasts.
The most prized and most expensive, this caviar comes from beluga sturgeon that swim in Caspian Sea. Its soft, pea-sized eggs range in color from pale silver to black. Because beluga eggs are the largest, they are also the most fragile.
Medium-sized osetra is smaller and firmer than beluga, with gray to dark brown eggs. With a distinct, nutty taste, many connoisseurs would argue this caviar is the best.
The smallest variety, sevruga is dark gray in color with an iodine taste. The eggs open quickly when eaten, bursting with fine flavor.
Extremely rare, this golden caviar was once reserved for Russian czars and Iranian shahs.
Other popular and less expensive types of caviar include whitefish (American Golden), lumpfish and salmon (red caviar). You may also come across pressed caviar, a variety comprised of fragile or damaged eggs from several different fish. Pasteurized caviar is partially cooked and therefore less perishable, but definitely different in texture.
When buying fresh caviar, look for eggs that are firm, shiny and separate, with a fresh, briny smell. Some caviar is labeled with the term malossol. Russian for "little salt", this caviar has been processed with minimum salt.
Because fresh caviar is extremely perishable, only buy the amount you need. Keep it cool in an insulated bag on the way back home from the market.
For fresh caviar, refrigerate, unopened, for up to one month. Once opened, cover and refrigerate for no more than three days.
Pasteurized caviar may be stored at room temperature until opened. Once opened, refrigerate and use within three days.
Note: The ideal storage temperature for caviar is about 28ºF (much cooler than a home refrigerator). To do this, pack the caviar container in a plastic bag filled with ice. Place the bag in a bowl and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Drain the water and replenish the ice as needed.
- Serve caviar very cold, in a bowl surrounded by ice.
- Use utensils made of horn, gold, mother-of-pearl or plastic rather silver or stainless, which may alter your caviar's taste and color.
- Eat with toast points and lemon wedges.
- Garnish with sour cream, minced onion and hard-cooked eggs.
- Add to hot, cooked dishes right before serving.
- Pair with iced vodka or champagne.