The 8 Best Caviars
8. Roland Red
6. Bemka’s Crown Russian Ossetra
4. Marky’s Alaskan Salmon Roe
3. Olma Beluga Sturgeon Hybrid
2. Season Black
1. Black Diamond Hackleback
A Brief History Of Caviar
When I was a little kid, someone told me that fish eggs were considered fancy cuisine. I couldn't believe that anyone could eat something so disgusting, and then I went right back to my Pop Tarts covered in Colby-Jack cheese.
Now that I've actually had caviar, I see what the fuss was about. These fish eggs — usually sturgeon, although other fish like salmon and trout are sometimes used, as well as beluga in higher-end dishes — are actually quite tasty, even if they don't pair well with brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts.
Genghis Khan's grandson, Batu, is the earliest recorded caviar connoisseur, as Orthodox Christian monks in one Russian village, eager to get on his good side, served him hot apple preserves topped with sturgeon eggs. After the feast, the monks and their village were spared, so Batu must have been a fan.
The dish soon grew to be popular all throughout Eurasia, so much so that the European sturgeon became extinct due to over-fishing.
Fortunately, by the time the European fish disappeared, Atlantic sturgeon from the United States was ready to fill the void. These Yankee fish were just as tasty as their continental cousins, and far more abundant. In fact, at one point there was so much caviar that it was served in bars the way peanuts are today. By the 19th century, however, American sturgeon were being over-fished, as well, with the bulk of the catch being sent to Europe.
That left the Caspian Sea as the primary venue for obtaining caviar. However, in the 1950s, the Soviets began to dam up many of the rivers that fed the Caspian, and without access to spawning grounds, sturgeon numbers began to fall. Caviar was an important part of the European diet — especially since it was associated with the aristocracy — so Russian scientists began to immediately search for ways to artificially breed the fish.
They were able to do this by building hatcheries underneath their dams. Eventually, one scientist defected to the United States, bringing with him the secret to breeding the fish. He settled in California, and as a result the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento River have played host to a bustling sturgeon population.
Today, sturgeon numbers are on the rise, with farmed fish representing the bulk of the caviar haul. Finding great tasting, sustainably-farmed caviar is as easy as it's ever been, which will come in very handy indeed if any more of Genghis Khan's descendants decide to go on a rampage.
Tips For Choosing The Best Caviar
First off, it's important to know that you don't have to spend a bundle to have great caviar. Thanks to farm fishing, prices are dropping all over the world, and you no longer need a co-signer just to enjoy a fine dining experience.
The main thing that determines a caviar's price is the breed of fish used (salmon or lumpfish will produce cheaper roe than river beluga, for example). Be aware, however, that true river beluga isn't available in the U.S. due to the species' vulnerability, so any beluga you buy will be farm-raised.
There are also some unfamiliar terms you may see thrown around when you're shopping. If you see the word malossol on a tin, that means that it was made using a minimal amount of salt. This purportedly makes for better caviar, but it also makes it less stable, so only get it if you're planning on chowing down soon.
You may also notice caviar that's been pasteurized. This means it's been slightly cooked, so it will stay fresh for much longer than other varieties, and many pasteurized options can be stored at room temperature.
If you see pressed caviar, on the other hand, then you're looking at a spread that's been made of broken or damaged eggs. Some food snobs will turn their nose up at pressed caviar, but it's still quite tasty, and is often used as a spread in other recipes.
Regardless of what you buy, the important thing is to indulge yourself, so bust out the cravat, put on your finest monocle, and be sure to tell your butler to let the Bud Light breathe before serving.
How To Serve Caviar
If you're going through the trouble of serving caviar at a party, you need to look like you know what you're doing, or else the effect will be ruined and your guests will fail to be shamed by your superior sophistication. Fortunately, I'm not about to let that happen.
One thing you need to know is what kind of dish to use. It's best to keep the caviar in its original tin until you're ready to eat it, at which point you can transfer it to a serving bowl. It's perfectly fine to serve it out of its original tin, or you can use a gold or plastic bowl — just don't use silver.
The same goes for the spreading utensil. A mother of pearl spoon is considered proper, but no one will judge you for using plastic. There's a widespread belief that touching caviar with metal will spoil the taste, but this seems to be a myth, and most tins use metal lids anyway.
Take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before it's time to serve, and try to consume it within an hour. Caviar doesn't react well to open air, so don't leave it out, and try to finish it all in one sitting (as if you needed any encouragement).
Traditionally, the eggs are spread over brioche toast or boiled potatoes, but you have my permission to put it on whatever you like. It pairs well with vodka (naturally), champagne, or a dry white wine. Of course, half the fun is in feeling like a sophisticated member of the aristocracy, which is why I drink mine with chocolate milk served out of a highball glass.