Shop and Live Mediterranean

Friday, March 6, 2009

Call up the Stand In

Alright we had our fun living 'a day in the life' of the rich and famous in our memorable, though vicarious trip to the Ritz-Carlton - Moscow, in yesterday's blog. However, its time that we ventured to the more down-to-earth aspects of enjoying this most essential culinary device.

From our previous discussions we know that 'few true' ie, Beluga, Oscetra and Sevruga, while accessible, are not ones that will provide endless enjoyment to US-based palletes at least until the Sturgeon population is able to replenish itself to a comfortable level. Don't hold your reath...

Acceptable 'Stand Ins'

The flavors of trout, Paddlefish, and Golden White Fish roe have been describes as delicious as caviar sourced from Caspian Sea-based and domestic Sturgeon. And while its safe to say that the population of Sturgeon Fish in American waters are more plentiful, its industry has also significantly suffered from the Sturgeon's declining numbers. Fortunately, American producers have developed well received caviar substitutes from other fishe species, many of which have become quite in demand from purists in America all the way to Russia!

Somewhat surprisingly the quality of caviar is usually determined by its color opposed to its shape or size.

- Grade 1 caviar a very light color and is classified as 000.

- Grade 2 caviar has a medium color tone and is classified as 00

- Grade 3 caviar has the darkest color and is classified as 0.

In modern times, the near extinction of Sturgeon of the Caspian Sea, nearby regions and around the world has become a very real problem. While it is being addressed, many premium quality and eco-friendly alternatives to 'true' caviar have come to be enthusiastically embraced by the artful hands of American (based) chefs, and palettes of adventuous patrons of trendy restaurants, sushi bars and gourmet food retailers.

As mentioned in an archive 'Wine Spectator' Magazine interview (11/30/99)

"The nutty, creamy flavor of white sturgeon caviar resembles [Caspian] osetra caviar," says Rod Mitchell, president of Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine, which supplies American caviar to restaurants such as Restaurant Daniel in New York and Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. "Some paddlefish caviar is coming out better than some of the sevruga from the Caspian," he says.

Hackleback Sturgeon can be found in the wild within the Mississippi River system. Its flavor is described as 'clean and mild,' with a tinge of nuttiness. However, its pitch-black appearance has a tendency to be less appealing to chefs who typically prefer the classic Caspian species grey tint.
Hackleback caviar is usually a safe tasteful choice in dinner party settings.

Paddlefish is a large fish that resembles the Sturgeon, from the Mississippi region. It costs about half of Sevruga Caviar. Its flavor is typically consistent with its appearance, often described as pristine green of free-running springs of Kentucky, the location of its origin.

Salmon roe, on the surface may seem to be more accessible to the masses thus less susceptible to criticism. However, salmon roe should be just firm enough to gently pop open when bitten into. Overly mature eggs will be too hard, immature eggs too squishy. Color indicates origin, not quality.

Mark Federman of Russ and Daughters remarks that 'some of these roes taste as interesting as they look. I particularly liked the firm and pleasantly saline trout roe and the smoky charcoal gray herring roe. The crunchy, mild whitefish roe would make a nice garnish but the black-dyed whitefish roe ran all over the place. Pearl gray anchovy roe was attractive but had a chickenlike flavor, prompting Federman to say, 'It doesn't taste real to me.'

These days, there is an abundance of caviar substitutes, ie., fish roe, that of a variety of flavors, colors, textures capable of encouraging or destroying a given ambiance or mood. The only real way to discover your particular likes, dislikes is to pack up your blini and get on the train.

All the best

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