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Caviar Cachet

Once Plentiful and Cheap, the Sturgeon Roe Craved by Czars Increases in Demand as the Politics of Procurement Become More Byzantine
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 3)

Russians, incidentally, like to use toasted French bread that has been coated with a thin layer of sweet butter. For salmon roe, they prefer black bread. Blini (small pancakes) are also traditional vehicles for caviar. But Darra Goldstein thinks the practice of using sour cream on blini, or anywhere else, is "an abomination. Russian restaurants do that here," she says. "But using cream is a Swedish affectation."

A more sensual way to eat caviar is off your hand. With one fist slightly closed, put a half ounce on the soft skin between the first knuckle of your forefinger and the first knuckle of your thumb. Then slurp it up. This is how professional tasters sample caviar.

You'll often see pictures of blue caviar tins or silver caviar containers immersed in ice. While this may look snazzy, water from the melting ice can ruin caviar. Besides, if the caviar is too cold, its flavor will be masked, just like an overchilled Bâtard-Montrachet. And, as with white Burgundy, the perfect serving temperature is around 50 degrees. However, if the caviar is going to be sitting around for a while--and why would you let that happen?--put a napkin between the ice and the container holding the caviar.

One of the many other misconceptions about caviar is that it is a perfect mate for Champagne. But this pairing is more fantasy than reality and stems from the fact that both are quintessential symbols of celebration. Unfortunately, almost all Champagnes, even the dry brut variety, have too much residual sugar for caviar. In their book Red Wine With Fish, the authors David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson note that "almost every Champagne and sparkling wine in our tasting seemed coarser, sweeter, hotter after eating the caviar." If you insist on bubbly, use the lightest, driest Champagne you can find, such as a French brut sauvage.

While some think that beer goes well with caviar, the ultimate beverage with caviar is vodka, especially right from the freezer. Vodka encased in a block of ice is makes for an attractive presentation. To achieve this, put the bottle of vodka into an empty half-gallon milk carton, fill it with water, then place it upright in the freezer. When the water has frozen (the alcohol will prevent the vodka from freezing), peel or cut off the carton. I think the best vodkas are the ones that aren't too high in alcohol (80 proof) and have some character and viscosity, such as Kremlyovskaya, Stolichnaya Gold and Smirnoff Black from Russia, and the Polish-made Belvedere and Chopin.

Buying caviar in the United States is easy, because reputable mail-order firms, such as California Sunshine Fine Foods (800) 952-2842), Caviar Russe (800) 692-2842), Caviarteria (800) 422-8427; (800) 287-9773 in California), Murray's Sturgeon (212) 724-2650), Petrossian (800) 828-9241), Stone Hill Inc. (800) 672-2842) and Zabar's (800) 697-6301 outside New York City; (212) 496-1234 in New York) can ship overnight. Use those gel packs (instead of ice) to help keep the caviar cold in the refrigerator until you use it--no more than a day or two, or as soon as you can find a spoon.

Sam Gugino is the Tastes columnist for the Wine Spectator and the author of Cooking to Beat the Clock, to be published in December.

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