Caviar is considered a delicacy consisting of salt-cured fish-eggs of the Acipenseridae family and is eaten as a garnish or a spread. The roe can be “fresh” (non-pasteurized) or pasteurized, with pasteurization reducing its culinary and economic value. The fresh caviar is mostly served with mother of pearl caviar spoons to avoid tainting the taste of the caviar. The four main types of caviar are Beluga, Sterlet, and Sevruga. The rarest and costliest is from beluga sturgeon that swim in the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. Beluga caviar is prized for its soft, extremely large (pea-size) eggs. It can range in color from pale silver-gray to black. It is followed by the small golden starlet caviar which is rare and was once reserved for Russian, Iranian and Ausrian royalty. Next in quality is the medium-sized, gray to brownish osetra (ossetra), and the last in the quality ranking is smaller, gray sevruga caviar.
Considered the most flavorful and elite caviar by some critics, Ossetra (sometimes also spelled Osetra or Asetra) is one of the most desired types of caviar in the world. It can look, smell, and taste a little different each time you try it due to abundant varieties. Generally nutty and buttery in taste, the savory roe ranges in color from deep black to light gold and almost white. The texture of ossetra caviar tends to be a bit firmer than other types of caviar, yet still delicate.
Caviar is extremely perishable and must be kept refrigerated until consumption. Pasteurized caviar has a slightly different texture. It is less perishable and may not require refrigeration before opening. Pressed caviar is composed of damaged or fragile eggs and can be a combination of several different roes. It is especially treated, salted, and pressed.
The Iranian caviar as the best caviar in the world is a very lucrative export good of Iran, with roughly half being collected from sturgeons near Bandar-e Turkmen. As Robert Courteline states “it’s like a sea candy, filled with iodine and powdered with mystery”. No country can compete with Iran in processing and producing caviar because Iran’s caviar is well-known as the best of its kind across the world. Many foreigners regard caviar as one of the few characteristically Iranian goods.
When enjoying caviar, make sure to just relax and not overcomplicate the experience. To allow the delicate flavor of the caviar to come through, serve the caviar on a plain base, such as the traditional buckwheat blini. Plain crackers, toasted crioche, or challah bread are all perfect substitutes. You can then top with a small dollop of crème fraiche on the blini, then add the caviar. For the purist, just enjoy the caviar by the spoonful with no adornment, pressing the eggs against the roof of your mouth with your tongue until they pop.
On the subject of serving caviar, never use metal. The delicate nature of caviar is so fragile that using a metal bowl or spoon will give the caviar an “off” flavor of a metallic tang. In haut cuisine, caviar should be served in a bowl made of ice with a pear or bone spoon. If you don’t have the luxury of such serving wear, glass will work fine. If all else fails, use plastic before you ever consider using metal serving ware. Fish may shine though with a squirt of lemon, but do not apply acidic liquids to caviar, as this can neutralize any flavor you’ve paid for.
Storing Caviar at Home
Caviar should be stored in the refrigerator, with the tin placed in a bowl of ice. Although you may not think so, your refrigerator is actually too hot to adequately store caviar. That being said, caviar should never be frozen. An unopened tin will stay fresh for two weeks, but once opened it should be consumed in two to three days.