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Friday, February 27, 2009

Caviar Appreciation 101: Hey, Are You Going To Eat That?

Tasting Caviar

The moment of truth is quickly approaching. There you stand with a nervous grip on your champagne flute, which you're not quite sure whether you should be holding by the stem or under the rim. The hosts have provided for their guests an incredible spread with a mouth watering assortment of crudites and canapes (that's what they're called, aren't they)? You try not to bring attention to yourself as you move closer take in the details... Fresh cantaloupe slices wrapped in Italian prosciutto, stuffed grape leaves, and oh, look at those cute miniature spanikopitas. You breath a sigh of relief as you realize that no special etiquette is needed to consume these goodies. However, the real mission in attending this shindig is to finally tackle mystical luxurious caviar. The butterflies return.

Though there are a specific amount of basic rules to be followed when eating caviar, there is never a need to be intimidated by it. It can not be said enough that the delicacy is considered one of the finest luxuries of the world. However, caviar is also a staple in the cuisine of a number of cultures living in regions near the Caspian Sea.

One of the reasons that so-called special rules are designated to certain types of food is likely to allow the consumer to enjoy all its flavor nuances to their full extent, without interference or distraction. Historically, that has been the case in a number of societies. Simply think back to how scrumptiously luscious an ice cold, freshly peeled navel orange tasted as a kid. Of course respect for one's neighbor is essential in these modern days as well, so a little minimal level of civility is to be expected.

With that, let's discuss a few basics regarding the consumption of a few types of caviar and other types of fish roe. A number of purists believe that caviar (just as the navel orange) should be eaten simply, nude (referring to the caviar, that is) with no garnish what-so-ever, if one may.

.. And note that in every setting, caviar should be served ice cold in a non-metallic bowl set in another bowl of ice. Don't be surprised, however, to see it served in its original tin from time to time.

Initial Solo Impressions

(1) To do this use a non stainless steel or silver utensil (mother of pearl spoons especially for caviar are available. However, wooden or glass spoons are alright to use, too. Plastic spoons are considered 'gauche' so use these in private, if you embarrass easily). (2)Spoon about a teaspoon or so onto the flat area in between your thumb and index finger. Bring it to the mouth and eat it. Now at this point, concentrate on the flavors, textures and other morphisms going on in your mouth. (3) Give yourself a moment or two to process. The ball is in your court from this point on.

Accompaniments to caviar are acceptable and even preferred by a fair number of enthusiastics, and ethnic palettes and include unsalted crackers, Sardinian 'pane carasau' (particularly with 'Bottarga' or air dried Silver Mullet roe, my all time personal favorite), and/or melba - with or without unsalted butter, créme frâiche even carefully separated soft boiled eggs. For some a gentle squeeze of lemon balances the flavor. Rather inexpensive types of roe can even be used in cooking such as Capelin and Whitefish caviar. The point to remember is to ultimately retain the flavor of the roe.

Although so much, much more can be said regarding the consumption of this fabled delicacy, an essential point to keep in mind is that 'caviar' remains to be regarded as an rare occasioned and coveted culinary delight, therefore that you not be a... well a piggy about it and consume a somewhat moderate portion of it. Typically an ounce or two should suffice, to play it safe for first timers.

Your host will most likely make decisions regarding drink accompaniments to caviar selections. Purists will typically choose fine quality Russian vodka that is to be slammed in a single shot, much as a caviar chaser. Others may recommend 'brut' and 'extra brut' champagne or other sparkling or flat white wines such as Vermintino. Even beer can act as an acceptable and appropriate backdrop. Knowing the effects of certain flavor changes and conditions you can make your own decisions based on your preferences. I, for instance could never part with a deep red wine as a caviar accompaniment. Experimentation is encouraged. However, I wouldn't recommend adding it to peanut butter sandwich.

Have a fun weekend,

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