In pre-revolutionary Russia, the Tsar’s children would usually start their day by eating it with bananas for breakfast. Jackie Kennedy kept her figure by eating it every day along with a baked potato and soured cream. Frank Sinatra, an accomplished cook by all accounts, used to serve it on top of scrambled eggs in order to impress Ava Gardner. What are we talking about? Well, caviar of course, the salty eggs (roe) of the sturgeon fish that have been a staple luxury food in Russia since at least the 14th century, and in Europe since the 19th century and the height of the Franco-Russian Alliance that led to a mutually beneficial sharing of military, political and, along the way, cultural interests.
Caviar is perhaps the ultimate byword for luxury, beating even Champagne to the title. It is, of course, much harder to come by, and its consumption requires a little more refinement of approach. It is also, ounce for ounce, infinitely more expensive, ranging from $50 to $3,000 an ounce (28 grammes). If you would like to go really wild, there’s Strottarga Bianco Caviar, made in Austria by mixing the white fish roe of the rare albino sturgeon with 22-carat gold leaf, which can cost up $300,000 per kilo.
The wide variation in price reflects the variations in the species of sturgeon (26) from which the caviar is taken, and how it is processed afterwards. The finest caviar should taste neither fishy nor overly salty and should consist of shiny, fine-grained egg globules that are sturdy and unbroken.
Though one is, of course free to add bananas at home (not as bizarre an idea as it first sounds as bananas and caviar share important flavour molecules), we think that caviar is best enjoyed simply, with a few blinis and a range of tasty complements, including sour cream, chopped shallot and chopped egg. You may note that we do not use metal implements when we serve it, as these may impair the flavour of your dish.
As to which you should choose, it all depends. Beginners might want to try out Primeur, a young caviar which is refined for less than four weeks to reveal a fresh hazelnut taste and a crunchy yet creamy texture. Enjoy with a full-bodied, dry white wine, such as a Viognier, or a Champagne Blanc de Blancs.
A saltier, fruitier and lingering flavour will distinguish the Vintage caviar from the Primeur. With shiny, round and firm roes that deliver an explosion of flavour, these are best enjoyed with a young white wine, such as our Mussel Bay Sauvignon Blanc, whose herbal-lemon flavours may intensify the taste of the caviar.
With large roes that melt on the tongue to give an unrivalled and refined longevity and exquisite feel, Sturia’s Prestige Baerii caviar might encourage you to break out the vodka instead of wine or Champagne. A pairing that has long defined man’s relationship with caviar, vodka’s simplicity and smooth, clean acidity is the perfect foil to this caviar’s rich complexity. Drop an ice cube into the vodka to really perfect the marriage.
The queen of caviars, Oscietra is one of the most prized and expensive of them all, thanks to the rich, nutty and marine flavours with touches of dried fruit hidden within the firm, golden-brown roes. For this, of course, nothing less than Champagne will do…