Do you remember the first time you had caviar? You’d heard so much about it, this mysterious luxury: tiny black pearls so exquisite in flavor and texture that people paid through the nose for just a dollop. Then, you tasted it. And there it was: salty and fishy, a little black mound on a little fat pancake with some sour creamy spread. You thought to yourself, is this it? Surely, few people fall for caviar upon first bite. It takes those second, third and fourth bites to get it. Then, it’s like, Woah, where have you been all my life!
We tapped Alexandre Petrossian of the Petrossian fine food company and the grandson of one of the first guys to bring caviar to France, then America, to tell us everything there is to know about fancy fish eggs.
- Caviar is one of the oldest deliacies
Before raw oysters, before Champagne, before even truffles were deemed a delicacy, caviar was coveted by kings and the aristocracy. Ancient Greeks, Romans and Russian tsars were all known to splurge on caviar.
- Caviar is not as expensive as you think
OK, it’s definitely not cheap. But caviar prices have dropped in recent years as advances in aquaculture, especially domestically, have made farmed sturgeon more available and affordable. Coincidentally, the U.S. was also responsible for a severe drop in prices in the early 19th century, when lake sturgeon was discovered to be plentiful here.
- The Salmon Roe on your sushi is not caviar!
Caviar was originally harvested by Russian and Persian fishermen in the Caspian Sea. The term refers to unfertilized salt-cured fish eggs from different species of sturgeon, including Ossetra, Sevruga and Beluga. Just about all 26 species of sturgeon have been used for caviar.
- Caviar is judged on its color, flavor, texture and maturity
The finest, most expensive caviars are older, larger eggs that are lighter in color. Lower quality caviar is younger, with a less intensely fishy flavor, and darker in color. It’s a good thing, too, for caviar newbies, who are more likely to start on the cheaper, milder stuff.
- Caviar lasts more than a day
Because it’s technically cured fish, caviar has a decent shelf-life, even after it’s opened. Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator, as close to the freezer as possible, and it should stay fresh for about a month.
- Caviar is like wine
Caviar junkies and VIPs will seek out reserve caviar, the rarest and most expensive of all caviars. In the Middle Ages, many countries had laws that required the finest caviar to be reserved for the monarchy. Reserve caviar would have been that caviar.
- Caviar is like Prozac
Historically, caviar was prescribed to alleviate depression. Hey, wouldn’t you feel better if someone gave you caviar? It’s not as fishy as it sounds: recent studies show that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids – caviar is rich in omega-3s – may alleviate symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.
- Caviar is like Viagra
It was also prescribed for impotence. Hey, now.
- Caviar is audible
When Petrossian hires a new caviar grader, they make sure the person has a musical ear. When fish eggs rub against each other, the friction can be heard. The sound of good caviar when it’s packed is distinctly recognizable as something similar to a cat’s purr.
- Caviar can be sustainable
Several of the 26 species of sturgeon are now considered endangered, but all of them have been severely overfished, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. The go-to source for sustainable fish alternatives recommends opting for U.S.-farmed white sturgeon and paddlefish roe.
- Beluga is still on the menu
Beluga caviar has been illegal in the U.S. since 2005 due to its status as an endangered species. Petrossian had taken it off its retail website, but decided to add it back on with an explanation of why it was not available, both to educate people and offer them a good alternative.
- The most expensive caviar on record is from a 100-year-old fish
Almas caviar, from the eggs of 60 to 100-year-old Iranian beluga sturgeon, clocked in at roughly $35,000 per kilo ($1,000/oz.). Can you imagine killing a fish older than your grandma for its eggs?
- Blini ain’t the be-all-and-end-all
The traditional round puffy pancakes are perfect to top with crème fraîche and caviar. But early Russians preferred their roe on a baked potato. Nowadays, caviar makes appearances on everything from pizza to burgers.