Caviar 101

Unfoodie wants to understand the basics of caviar because "the only thing I know about caviar is that it's fish eggs."

So Unfoodie wants to know: What kinds of caviar are there? How is it eaten? What's so great about it?

True caviar always comes from one of three types of sturgeon, Caroline1 says, and it is usually ranked in quality in this order: beluga, osetra, and then sevruga. But great caviar is becoming almost impossible to find, Caroline1 says. "I think top dollar for a kilo of top beluga today is somewhere close to (or more than?) twenty thousand dollars!" she says. "Best caviars come from wild species of these sturgeon that are native to the Caspian and Black Seas," Caroline1 says, although sturgeon caviars are now available from American waters.

What's the best way to eat this delicacy? With a spoon, Caroline1 says—but not a metal spoon that will react with the caviar and affect the flavor. Instead, use a glass or mother of pearl implement. As for accompaniments, the "best way to eat it is on toast points, buttered with unsalted high grade butter if you like," Caroline1 says. She thinks that the Russian way of serving caviar, on blini with sour cream (smetana), diminishes the flavor of the caviar. "Caviar should NEVER be topped with chopped eggs, chopped onions, or any of the junk that some restaurants serve along with it," she says. "That is just plain wrong ... [but] it will mask an inferior grade of caviar."

The thing to pay attention to when eating caviar is the "snap," Caroline1 says. "While they're worlds apart in price, the snap of a really good natural casing hot dog and the eggs of really good quality caviar have that snapping quality in common," she says.

If you can't afford sturgeon roe, there are other fish roes that are highly prized. "The closest thing in snap and texture (and not too far off in flavor) is fresh-from-the-salmon roe," says Caroline1. "I could eat a kilo of that!"

Discuss: Please school me on caviar.

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