Caviar might not be the most obvious snack to add to a sports-watching spread. But with the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in Russia this month and with Valentines Day falling on the second weekend of the Games it seems like a golden opportunity to pay homage to one of the countrys most historically celebrated luxuries.Best enjoyed by the mother-of-pearl spoonful straight from the tin in between sips of champagne, the roe of sturgeon we know as caviar is well-suited to sharing with a sweetheart.Indulging in the lavish commodity is on the rise, especially with todays younger set of food-savvy consumers. Caviar is a growing category for us, says Will Whitlow, deli and cheese business development manager for Central Markets division office. He gets to taste caviar for a living and decide whats best for area stores. Customers are asking, What can I do at home that has a sense of luxury? Caviar is way up there. Its so simple. You open it, you dont have to prepare it, and you have it with a little champagne. Its so old-school, but now its coming into its own.Whitlow says caviar sales spike around Thanksgiving and remain high through New Years Eve, but theres another big bump near Valentines Day. (Those aphrodisiac properties are no lie.)But for those new to the world of caviar, note that the real deal only comes from sturgeon meaning that a jar labeled salmon roe, lumpfish roe or any other roe does not contain true caviar.Salmon roe is really popular, and it goes in lots of Asian cooking, Whitlow says. But if youre looking for caviar, roe is a far-off alternative. Salmon roe has a far different texture and flavor profile. It wouldnt satisfy somebody looking for caviar.When purchasing caviar for the first time, deciding which tiny tin to buy can be baffling (as well as expensive). Alexandre Petrossian, the third-generation vice president of the prestigious Petrossian caviar brand, established in Paris in 1920, recommends starting with a lighter-tasting caviar and progressing from there. It would be like a cheese, he says. If it was the first time that I ate cheese, I wouldnt go for blue cheese or something very strong.Petrossian recommends first buying the smallest tin available of inexpensive caviar, to make sure that you do indeed like caviar. Transmontanus, a white sturgeon native to California, is a good place to start, he says. Its very good caviar thats not too expensive and not too strong, he says. Its very light in flavor, but has a beautiful flavor. If we had to compare, I would say it would be close to something like an oyster.Next on his list for newbies is Shassetra, a pricier Chinese caviar thats light to dark golden in color and briny in flavor.Then I would go for osetra, because its definitely the most famous, Petrossian adds. If you talk about caviar with your friends, they are going to tell you about osetra first. Its kind of the middle caviar. Its not too strong but its not the lightest.But just like wine, price doesnt indicate higher quality or better-tasting caviar. Your best friend can love one type, and you can love another type. Theres no wrong way, and the price has nothing to do with the flavor, Petrossian says. Its really up to your own taste buds.Were accustomed to seeing caviar presented atop toast points with a dollop of crème fraiche or within hollowed mini potatoes, and not much has changed with regard to these classic, fanciful presentations. Simple is best, to let the caviar shine, says Whitlow. Youre paying a lot of money for this product. You dont want it watered down by other condiments.As for Petrossian, he admits hes a little weird when it comes to eating the delicacy he grew up with. I prefer to have it straight out of the tin with those little wooden Popsicle sticks because when I was a kid, thats the way we would present caviar to customers, he says. If I dont have that, its super hard for me to enjoy it because Im so used to this flavor.Experts recommend taking a spoonful of the delicate fish eggs and moving them around in your mouth, allowing the beads to burst, in order to experience the real, buttery, salty taste of caviar.Then youll know, OK, I love it or I hate it, Petrossian says.Adding complements like traditional mini Russian pancakes, or blini, is optional. As for the Russian tradition of serving caviar with capers, hard-boiled eggs and onions, Petrossian says thats no longer necessary. They used to do that in Russia because, before, the caviar was very, very strong, he says. There was a need for something even stronger to cut that salty flavor. Now caviar is salted very lightly. You dont need to hide the flavor anymore. It has a delicate flavor.But whatever you do, dont eat caviar with a metal spoon.Use mother-of-pearl or horn, says Whitlow. You wouldnt use silver or stainless steel. Its like chewing on aluminum foil. Plastic is also fine as its nonreactive.Most of todays caviar is farm-raised, as fishing for wild sturgeon in the famed Caspian Sea, the largest enclosed body of water on earth, is now illegal. Caviar was once reserved for royalty, but in the late 19th century, the salty fish eggs began being sold in American saloons in hopes of making beer-drinking patrons thirstier.Petrossian is now aiming to make the luxury of caviar more readily available to the masses in the form of less-expensive new products, like an easily spreadable caviar cream, made with crème fraiche and caviar, and a powdered form that comes ready to sprinkle on scrambled eggs or pasta.Its regular caviar that we take and dry, so its a lot easier to cook with and easier to play with, Petrossian says. It doesnt have all the difficulties of dealing with fresh caviar. Its not too expensive and still gives you a taste of caviar.Central Market Fort Worth Cooking School director Sarah Hooton provides her favorite recipes for presenting caviar atop a chive flan or a low-gluten variation of classic blini, crowned with whipped mascarpone and a roasted tomato.But no matter how you eat it, with champagne or ice-cold vodka, on toasted pumpernickel or with a plastic spoon, indulging in caviar is an experience thats rarely rushed and always revered.
4651 West Freeway
1425 E. Southlake Blvd.
(Available online and at Central Market stores.)
Makes about 6 2-ounce ramekins
1/3 cup chives, finely chopped, plus additional slivers for garnish
1 cup half-and-half
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Crème fraiche, for serving
Caviar, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle.
2. Simmer chives and half-and-half in a small, heavy saucepan for 5 minutes, then let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Or, mix cold half-and-half with chopped chives, cover tightly, and let steep overnight in the fridge.
3. Whisk together egg, yolk, salt and pepper in a bowl, then whisk in chive mixture until blended. Carefully ladle or pour into ramekins.
4. Bake in a water bath until flan is just set, 10-15 minutes for a small ramekin or 20-30 for larger ones.
5. Carefully remove from water bath. Cool flans at room temperature. Serve slightly warm or room temperature. Can be baked ahead and held in the refrigerator overnight, but remove a few hours before serving and allow to warm. Serve with a small spoonful of crème fraiche and a scoop of caviar on top and garnish with a sliver of chive.
Sara Hooton, Central Market Fort Worth
Makes about 2 dozen
1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 (1/4-ounce) package instant dry yeast
(or 1 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup teff flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk, warmed to 105-115
Half a stick of unsalted butter, melted
and cooled, divided use
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Crème fraiche or mascarpone,
Oven-roasted tomato slices, for serving
Caviar, for serving
1. Stir together warm water, yeast and sugar in a bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Add teff flour, buckwheat flour and salt, then stir in milk, 3 tablespoons of the butter and eggs. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until dough has doubled in volume, has bubbles breaking the surface and is stringy when scooped, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
3. Stir batter before preparation. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot and brush with some remaining melted butter. (If butter browns immediately, lower heat.) Working in batches of four, spoon 1 tablespoon batter into skillet for each blini. Cook, turning over once, until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer to an ovenproof platter and keep blini warm in oven.
4. Serve blini topped with crème fraiche or whipped mascarpone, a slice of oven-roasted tomato, if desired, and caviar.
Sarah Hooton, Central Market Fort Worth