In ancient China, caviar connoisseurs steeped sturgeon eggs in tea before pickling the eggs in brine. The Turks thought “khavyar” originating from the Persian word, “chav-jar”, gave them great power – as an aphrodisiac.
Today, the discerning choose to dine on the most expensive caviar in the world; Almas Imperial “black gold” – although it’s not black at all. The golden roe comes from a rare albino sturgeon from the seas of Iran and is sold in a 24-karat gold tin, costing up to $35,000 a kilo, or $1,000 an ounce.
Peruvian Executive Chef Ricardo Valverde and General Manager and Wine Director, Andreas Vescovi of Vancouver’s Ancora Waterfront Dining & Patio have created a more accessible way of experiencing the jewels of the sea. Their recent 2nd annual Caviar Festival integrated the delicacy into their Peruvian-Japanese fusion menu.
Beneath cascading Swarovski crystal fishnet chandeliers designed by Italy’s Ingo Maurer, Chef Valverde offers tips on how to optimize the culinary experience.
Valverde explains that while caviar can be incorporated into warm foods, it is best never to heat caviar alone, as it loses flavour. Today, 90 per cent of the world’s caviar is farmed – even the priciest sturgeon caviar.
While Caviar is usually served in a stainless steel bowl because it doesn’t infuse any of the flavour, Valverde recommends using mother-of-pearl spoons, as caviar is delicate – and it’s definitely a more sensual method of consumption.
There are four main types of the finest caviar from descendants of the dinosaurs of the sea – the sturgeon: Beluga and rare Sterlet (less than 100 are caught each year); Osetra, Siberian sturgeon and Sevruga.
“Although the main factor that determines the price of caviar is its rarity, texture and maturity like the Beluga sturgeon, it doesn’t mean it tastes the best to all people,” affirms Chef Valverde. “Our palates are like a book- you’ve got to fill them with information about all kinds of caviar to understand the flavours.”
That’s why for the novice, herring caviar is making a comeback, although it was once dubbed the ‘poor man’s caviar’ because of its lower price point.
“Herring caviar is delicate and buttery and we serve it with buckwheat blinis and crème fraiche,” says Chef Valverde. “For our Caviar Festival, I created a Cauliflower & Leek Panacotta with milk bun toast, chives and herring caviar.
“Because lumpfish caviar has a stronger sea flavour, we combine it with something that it can meld into easily. Chawanmushi is a silky, savoury warm Japanese dashi custard.”
Chef Valverde recently returned from his honeymoon in his native Peru and was delighted to see trout caviar in some restaurants in Lima. “There are actually many trout farms in the Andes and I was thinking about bringing it here in the future, although we have very sustainable and Ocean Wise trout already in B.C.,” he says.
“We smoke our own trout caviar at Ancora and serve it with Squid Ink Linguini & Uni with house bacon, skin chicharron, bonito and buerre blanc.”
“The big jump to expensive caviar is Osetra which is sweet and nutty, not as briny,” Chef Valverde explains. He prepared a potato pave with a crispy, soft poached egg, crème fraiche and salsa verde with Northern Divine Osetra Caviar
Salmon roe is probably the most recognized by its tiny pearls of glittering vibrant orange that explode with a pop on the tongue.
For culinary creatives wanting to incorporate caviar in the kitchen, Valverde recommends starting with the most important meal of the day.
“The best and friendliest way to experiment with caviar at home is with scrambled eggs,” suggests Chef Valverde. “Don’t be shy- add it to cream cheese and dill on toast. Trout and salmon caviar are very accessible in B.C. so why not top an eggs benny with either one?”
As seen in Jan/Feb 2017 of H&L Magazine
Written by Laura Goldstein
Photography by Allison Kuhl and Provoke Studios