One of the finest foods on planet earth, caviar is a highly-prized treat that graces the plates of those who can afford it
However, it remains today a controversial yet desired ingredient that garners strong opinions one way or the other. People either love it or hate it; eat spoonfuls of the stuff or refuse to try even a smidgeon. The thought of noshing on eating salt-cured fish eggs (roe) can seem mildly repulsive but please believe me when I say that caviar is absolutely worth trying whether as a garnish or straight; adding an additional flavour component to a dish that no other ingredient can.
Honestly, in my humble foodie opinion, it is the true gift of the food gods. I love everything about the stuff; from the texture to the crunch and the salty buttery flavours that work their way into whatever mouthful of ingredients they are added to. That is the beauty of caviar. Its inimitable quality. Its distinctive flavour. Something that can only be found in fish roe.
Coming from South Africa, I rarely – if ever – came across caviar except for the addition of salmon roe to sushi and though I didn’t mind it, I wasn’t that into it either. Rather, I was quite indifferent if I’m honest. But after living in Asia and eating more and more of the stuff, the salty and savoury flavour began to become addictive and even desirable and I would feel cheated if it wasn’t generously added.
Now, roe confuses most people as it comes in so many varieties. It can be large, orange globules as in the salmon roe or it can tiny, black pearls as in beluga and there are countless other varieties with all their accompanying textures.
The most prized and highly sought-after one comes from the sturgeon fish of the Caspian Sea – beluga. Due to strict regulations, fewer than 100 sturgeon are caught each year, making this stuff black gold or rather more precious than that. It is expensive stuff indeed with prices ranging from 25,000 AED to 36,000 AED per kilogram.
Three is the magic number
Essentially, caviar can be separated into 3 main types: Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga. Beluga being the most expensive and Sevruga the least. Both of these types have a buttery flavour that is prized, yet sevruga is a lighter coloured and smaller roe that is light to medium grey; Sevruga is also saltier and has a more intense flavour.
These magic three are the real deal. If you ever have the chance to encounter them, be sure to give them a bash as most of the ones we encounter at the average (even decent) restaurant are the less fancier and cheaper versions that are more affordable. These include: American caviar, farmed caviar, salmon roe, hackleback, whitefin, bowfin, capelin, trout, lumpfish. All delicious but to connoisseurs not as highly-prized due to their easy availability. Can you believe that once upon a time, caviar was so plentiful – prior to over-farming – that it was served as a bar snack! Pretty much like peanuts are today and with the same intention; to make the patrons thirsty.
The rise of aquaculture in the UAE
While the wild sturgeon continues to be on the endangered list worldwide, other methods have succeeded in being propagated and are entering the mainstream. Aquaculture is one of these being the farming of fish and other ocean edibles to ease the food shortage crisis that the planet is currently experiencing. Right now, 2.6 billion people depend on the world’s oceans to supply them with their animal protein requirements. Farmed fish is a great way to ensure that these needs are met and that the oceans are protected concurrently.
Caviar might not be a necessity but the protected and sustainable farming of it ensures that the supply demands are met and that the fish are protected from overfishing. Sturgeon farming is essential to protect the species and I am greatly in favour of the idea as it not only protects the environment but a higher quality of product can be obtained that is not tainted by pollution. So, it’s a win-win.
In the UAE, Amstur is one the proponents of the aquaculture movement and they have exceptional high-standards. You can order your caviar directly from them and it will be delivered to you by a caviar chauffeur. Now, if that doesn’t scream cute, I don’t know what does. They offer the most exquisite gift sets which come in a beautiful leather thermacool bag complete with mother-of-pearl spoons to avoid tainting the taste of the roe. But depending on the type of caviar you select, the average gift set will set you back 1150 AED.
Leaving on a jet plane
If you happen to be in Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport, be sure to pop in to Seafood Bar by Caviar House & Prunier Stylish and uber-contemporary, if you are in the mood to indulge yourself before setting off on your holiday or are carb-conscious, then this may be the place for you. Try some of their Scottish-smoked salmon topped off with Black Russian caviar and a glass of top-shelf champagne. You may leave with your wallet a bit lighter but it’s worth it.
So, there you have the lowdown on caviar. Give it a try; not because it is darn expensive and rare but more because you may discover a new flavour sensation that you never knew existed. And, that still is such fun!