|An easy (just fill the spoons) but exciting hors d’oeuvre:
caviar shooters with vodka. Shown above, Ginger, Bee
Saffron and Wasabi whitefish roes. They are a superior
product to tobiko, which is flying fish roe. Photo by
Tsar Nicoulai Whitefish Caviar: Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat
CAPSULE REPORT: This tasty review is about infused whitefish caviars. We love these tasty roes! We have praised them elsewhere in THE NIBBLE. But we have never thoroughly reviewed them, with the exception of the Tsar Nicoulai Truffled Tiger Eye Whitefish Roe. That delicious product has several siblings, and today you will meet the rest of the family.
There are a number of companies selling infused (flavored) roes or caviars. As in any product category, one can come across the very good and the less than good. The wasabi-flavored tobiko* we bought at a local market was of the lesser sort, and if we had not previously sampled the zenith, we might not have raced to try other infused roes. So, trust us when we say that we are not going to guide you to the kind of questionable-tasting colored fish eggs you may have had on a canapé at a party, or to the colorful and crunchy, but not exactly gourmet, tobiko you may know from sushi bars. Read the full review below.
*Tobiko, flying fish roe, is also available in a variety of flavors and colors. While there are fine tobikos, product quality can vary significantly by producer. Two ounces of tobiko can be purchased for $2.00, while two ounces of whitefish roe cost $18.00.
The Connoisseur’s Trifecta
|Caviar: The Definitive Guide, by Susie Boeckmann and Natalie Rebeiz-Nielsen. Everything you ever wanted to know about caviar, from its history to the best ways to serve it and what to drink with it. If you’re giving a gift of caviar, this is a wonderful accompaniment. Or, give the book with a bottle of Champagne to someone who has “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” Click here for more information
|Truffles: Ultimate Luxury, Everyday Pleasure,
by Rosario Safina and Judith Sutton. While home cooks might not consider using truffles and truffle oils and butters in their everyday meals, Safina and Sutton simplify this expensive and aromatic fungus in a way that might make many consider cooking with truffles an accessible luxury. Click here
for more information.
|Foie Gras: A Passion, by Michael A. Ginor. Current controversy aside, foie gras is still a luxury food that we savor. Learn all about the history of foie gras and how it came to be imported into the U.S. Those who are serious about this melt-in-your-mouth delicacy will not be disappointed by the amount of in-depth information this book provides. Click here for more information.
The Difference Between Roe And Caviar
All caviar is roe, the uncooked eggs of any fish. While caviar has traditionally referred only to sturgeon roe, the roe of many (or any) fish is now commonly called caviar. In the U.S., it is legally permissible to call any roe caviar as long as the fish is identified, e.g. salmon caviar. Tsar Nicoulai uses the internationally-sanctioned terms, confining the word caviar to sturgeon eggs, and calling all other fish eggs roe.
As food writers, we prefer to use the caviar with the fish identified, because it imparts more familiarity to the products. Plus, there are so many different kinds of sturgeon caviar, that even confining the word to sturgeon requires a modifier: beluga caviar, Black Sea caviar, Iranian osetra caviar, farmed white sturgeon caviar, et al. See the yellow box in the middle of this article for more information.
And, by the way, caviar is not a Russian word, nor is it used by Russian speakers. Khaviar is of Persian origin, found in the Iranian and Turkish languages. Russian speakers use the word ikroj (pronounced EEK-ruh, with a rolle “r”) for all roe, and use a modifier (beluga, salmon) to specify which type. Habitués of sushi bars will note that the Japanese adapted this word into ikura, salmon roe.
Tsar Nicoulai Infused Roes
We especially love the infused whitefish roes sold by Tsar Nicoulai, the U.S. pioneer in sturgeon farming, and vendors of domestic sturgeon caviar as well imported caviars, smoked sturgeon and smoked salmon. Their naturally-flavored and colored roes are one of our favorite hors d’oeuvres because they are delicious, impressive, easy to serve, and relatively inexpensive (they’re just 20 calories a tablespoon, too, but that’s icing on the cake). There are several specialty firms making infused roes. Tsar Nicoulai gets theirs from Azuma, a wholesaler that we think is the absolute best. The flavors seem as natural as if fish yielded wasabi-flavored roe.
Whitefish roe in its natural state has a more subtle taste, and you should definitely include it on a caviar sampler plate. Add flavor, and do it well—infusing is an art and a science—and you have a really exciting food. Natural flavor makes a huge difference, and is one of the demarcation lines between gourmet products and merely decorative products. The roe is not salty or fishy; people who have never liked sturgeon caviar for those reasons can look forward to an enjoyable experience.
The ways to use these colorful, flavorful caviars are limited only by one’s imagination. Start with some inspiration in the photos below. Everything shown here is really easy if you have the right dishes. While you may not want to buy Rick Tramonto’s crystal Caviar Staircase for $395, you can adapt any of these ideas to multipurpose plates, platters, and martini chiller glasses.
We’ve included some stunning caviar presentations fit for a king below. But for everyday, how can you use these caviars?
As An Hors d’Oeuvre
- Just slice a cucumber, large radish or daikon, as we did at the right. Add crème fraîche or sour cream if you wish.
- Boil and halve new potatoes, jackets on, dab with crème fraîche or sour cream, and top with caviar. If you’re dieting, use FAGE Total 0% fat yogurt, which tastes like a cross between sour cream and crème fraîche. Use different colors of caviar for a rainbow presentation.
- If you like deviled eggs, the Beet-Saffron Roe is alluring mixed in with the yolks. Add some as garnish on top, too.
- Serve the caviars as shooters with champagne, vodka or sake, as we did in the photo at the very top.
As A First Course
- Start your dinner with caviar and toast points—perhaps you’ll be inspired to create an entire Russian-themed feast with borscht, sturgeon, and roast lamb.
Not only great but fast: It takes two minutes to slice a cucumber and spoon on the caviar. We always keep a jar or two in the refrigerator or freezer. Whitefish roe is a “pull a rabbit out of the hat” trick when you need instant excitement, or want to make something that’s good but plain look very glamorous.
- A plate of caviar with blinis or potato pancakes and crème fraîche is always a winner.
- We make smoked salmon “cigars,” salmon slices rolled with crème fraîche, caviar and snipped chives (you can play with the fillings, making horseradish crème, dill crème, ginger crème, etc.).
- Float a dollop of roe atop a bowl of soup for easy glamour. Or use Wasabi Roe to garnish raw oysters, ceviche, tuna tartar or crab cakes.
You can use any small, attractive bowl to present
caviar. Just fill it with crushed ice and insert a
smaller bowl with the caviar. This 8" diameter bowl
was carved from a block of precious pale green Xiu
jade exclusively for Dean & DeLuca, and can be used to serve other foods as well.
With The Main Course
- Use the roes to garnish your favorite dishes—the caviars look especially beautiful atop or alongside fish, seafood (especially Ginger and Wasabi Roes) and potatoes.
- In recipes, we love Wasabi or Ginger Roe with fettuccini and strips of smoked salmon; or Truffled Tiger Eye Roe mixed with angel hair or linguini tossed lightly in truffle oil. We substitute any of the roes in the “Sea Bass with Caviar Sauce” recipe from Caviar: The Definitive Guide, by Susie Boeckmann and Natalie Rebeiz-Nielsen—you can make the substitution with most caviar recipes.
- Stir Wasabi Roe into white clam sauce: it looks and tastes exciting.
- Any of the hors d’oeuvre concepts above can become a main course plate garnish.
Think flavor, think texture, think color. Scatter a few beads around any plate for a sophisticated presentation.
- We mix the roe into dips, spreads, and sauces like rémoulade; spruce up mayonnaise for sandwiches, and add some to vegetable and seafood salads (put it in the vinaigrette or add it to the plate and let the diner choose to eat it separately or mix it in).
- For breakfast we put some on poached eggs with smoked salmon or sturgeon. For lunch we have smoked salmon or sturgeon on buttered pumpernickel or rye with caviar—a different flavor on each half of the sandwich.
- We haven’t tried any dessert applications. We’ll stick with Venchi’s Chocaviar, beads of 90% chocolate dusted with cocoa in a caviar jar (available from GustoItalianoUSA.com, $12.00).
Gorgeous Caviar Presentations
If you want to knock them dead, what’s the best way to present caviar? Here are some ideas:
Chef/owner Rick Tramonto of Chicago’s Restaurant Tru
has custom-crafted a crystal Caviar Staircase. He serves a different flavor of caviar on each step. It’s how caviar lovers start each dinner at the restaurant. Photo by Ryan Roessler.
Tsar Nicoulai has a restaurant at the Ferry Building in San Francisco where people can enjoy caviar. Here, generous amounts of infused whitefish roes pair with tuna sashimi—a simple preparation anyone can make at home. You can buy the martini chiller glasses
shown. Tropical fish optional.
You don’t need this special plate to make a beautiful presentation, as they do at Fire Bird restaurant
in New York City. Just place mounds of caviar at compass points on a regular round plate—it will look just as exciting to your guests. Serve with toast points, cucumber and daikon slices.
Caviar 101: A Quick Course
You can learn much more about caviar in our Caviar Section, where there are tips for buying and serving caviar, a caviar glossary that is an education in of itself, general recipes, hors d’oeuvres and much more. Here’s a quick course for starters.
Caviar Versus Roe
- Historically, caviar referred only to the salted roe, or eggs, of the beluga, osetra, and sevruga sturgeons, denizens of the Caspian Sea and a few other waters for 180 million years. Salted is a key word: before it is processed, even these prized eggs are simply called roe.
- Salmon roe, often served in haute-cuisine circles, is often called red caviar, even in Russia. While international labeling standards require that anything called caviar be sturgeon roe, in the United States, as long as the species of the fish precedes the word “caviar,” the word can be used.
- Consumers are becoming caviar connoisseurs: fewer and fewer of those who pay $100 to $200 an ounce do so for generic “caviar.” The Internet allows people to study the differences among beluga, osetra, and sevruga. They don’t just know about Black Sea versus Caspian Sea beluga—they know to ask if it’s Russian Caspian or Iranian Caspian...or ponder if they should try the farmed caviar from any number of nations that are raising the crop in response to the higher prices and dwindling supply of the wild fish.
- In the past, 90% of the world’s sturgeon caviar came from the Caspian Sea region and its tributary rivers. Tragically, all three ancient sturgeon species are on the brink of extinction due to the combined effects of pollution, loss of spawning habitat (the damming of the Volga River and others), excessive poaching (due in part to the havoc caused by the break-up of the USSR), and over-fishing.
- As a result, caviar production declined from 2,270 tons in 1981 to 1,045 tons in 1990. Exports, which were 150 tons in 1995, were estimated at 120 tons in 2002.
- On September 30, 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the Caspian beluga sturgeon on the Endangered Species List—Americans consumed 60% of the world’s beluga. It is now illegal to import or carry personal supplies of Caspian beluga caviar into the U.S. Stores can still sell their existing inventory.
- While we hope that governments will implement effective plans to bring back the Caspian sturgeons, there are other sturgeon caviars to enjoy, as well as roes like the ones reviewed here. For more information about caviar, visit our Caviar section.
- Whitefish roe comes from cold lake waters. In North America, the Great Lakes are a principal source; Montana and Canada also produce excellent roe.
- Whitefish caviar is also known as golden caviar and American golden caviar. The color reference describes the gold-to-apricot hues of the roe.
- The small eggs have a slightly crunchy texture. Unlike sturgeon caviar, the eggs can be frozen and have a freezer shelf life of more than a year.
- Whitefish roe has a fresh, light flavor that can be enjoyed on its own; but it also adapts well to infusion with other flavors.
There’s no time like New Year’s Eve to celebrate with caviar. But at just $18 for a two-ounce jar of roe, you don’t have to wait for company...or fireworks.
— Karen Hochman
FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to your caviar-adoring friends, people looking for gifts for gourmets and anyone who loves to discover exciting new foods.
Infused Whitefish Roes
- Gift Box
Beet & Saffron, Hawaiian Ginger, Truffled
Tiger Eye, Wasabi
- Individual Jars of Roe, Any Flavor
Serves 2 to 4 people
- 3.5-Ounce Jar
Serves 4 to 8 people
- 6.5-Ounce Jar
Serves 7 to 14 people
- One-Pound Jar
Serves 16 to 32 people
To purchase, visit TsarNicoulai.com
Or telephone 1.800.952.2842
Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Price and availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional.
Two-ounce jars of the four infused roes, shown
above, are gift-packaged in the deluxe wrapping
Elegant Caviar Serving Pieces
Caviar Server. Keep your caviar chilled in style in a traditional caviar server. The caviar sits in the inner glass bowl, which is nestled in a bed of ice held by the outer bowl. Click here for more information.
Rosenthal Porcelain Serving Set. Present caviar in this five-piece set: a square platter and four dishes. The white background will highlight the stunning colors of the caviar, and you can pile the tray with toast points, blini, or cucumber and radish slices. Click here for more information.
Mother of Pearl Caviar Spoons. Caviar must be served with non-reactive utensils—never metal, which imparts a metallic taste (except for gold!). Mother of Pearl is the choice of most caviar lovers. Use these beautiful spoons for jam, mustard, and other foods as well. Click here for more information.
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ABOUT THE NIBBLE. THE NIBBLE™, Great Food Finds™, is an online magazine about specialty foods and the gourmet life. It is the only consumer publication and website that focuses on reviewing the best specialty foods and beverages, in every category. The magazine also covers tabletop items, gourmet housewares, and other areas of interest to people who love fine food.
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