Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I have learned about CAVIAR

Until I married into the Boyer family, I was convinced I did not like caviar. Of course my only experience with it was at cocktail parties where a salty black spread on toast was offered up as "caviar." My father-in-law served caviar at my first Boyer family Christmas. I declined a spoonful he proudly doled out to each of us, beseeching him not to waste it on me, who did not appreciate the delicacy. He insisted I taste it, and as the tiny pearls released their nutty flavors in my mouth, I realized I had never tasted caviar before. I happily took my portion.  

In the 1980s Gerard and I represented the radio station he worked for (Europe1) at a $1,000-a-plate charity dinner (the station paid). All of the money raised from the two hundred guests went to the charity, as Marcel Dassault (the famous French aircraft industrialist) paid for the dinner. To oohs and ahhs, each table was served a large glass bowl of caviar on ice chips, passed around with a soup ladle so each person could take as much as he or she wanted. Seconds were offered before we moved on to foie gras and later lobster and dessert. The meal was so impressive to me that it inspired a New Year's Eve tradition for us and three other couples. Instead of going out to an overpriced Parisian restaurant and spending a fortune (they always hiked up their prices that night), we started pooling our resources and buying caviar, smoked salmon and foie gras with wines to accompany each and celebrating at home together.. The first year it was my job to go to Petrossian and purchase the caviar, the salmon and the blinis.

I waited on line for over an hour, and when it came to my turn, I was intimidated by the signs with prices ranging from 1,800 to 3,400 francs per kilo. (Today they cost between $2,000 and $4,800 a pound). Unsure of which to get, I asked the retailer his opinion. He had me taste all three—Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga—and asked which I preferred. I admitted that I liked them all and my uneducated palate could hardly tell the difference. He then advised me to buy the least expensive and get almost twice as much for the same price. I followed his advice, and my friends were thrilled. I asked why the Beluga was so much more expensive than the Sevruga. He explained that it was not a difference in quality; even though he thought the Beluga was the best, he did not think it was so much better than the Sevruga as to warrant the price difference. It was a simply a question of supply and demand. Most customers who were unsure of which to buy went for the most expensive—driving the price way up, far beyond the gastronomic value.

True caviar consists of brined unfertilized sturgeon eggs (roe). Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga sturgeons, with the largest roe and the lightest color, are considered the very best. Very light, or golden, roe is also designated “Imperial” caviar or “Royal” caviar, as it was once reserved only for royalty. Today all types of sturgeon are on the endangered species list. Eighty-five percent of today's wild caviar originates in the Caspian Sea, shared by Russian and Iranian producers.
American caviar
Recently American caviar has come into fashion—or should I say "back into fashion," because in the early nineteenth century, the United States was actually the world's leading producer of caviar. An abundance of lake sturgeon made it so plentiful and inexpensive that saloons served it to make customers thirstier. (Today peanuts and pretzels are used for that purpose.)
In recent years sturgeon farming operations in the United States and abroad have preserved both the species and the industry by producing some very tasty alternatives. Commonly farmed varieties are Osetra, Baerii, and White Sturgeon. Raising them in artesian well water, feeding them the ideal toxin-free diet and harvesting their roe at the ideal time makes for premium-quality caviar. Wild caviar, which can only be extracted twice a year, is preserved by using heavy salting methods. Farm-fresh caviar is a very high quality, low-sodium and affordable alternative.
Nonsturgeon substitutes
Paddlefish caviar is a good substitute for Beluga caviar—clear, glossy beads, buttery flavor, and steel-gray- to golden-gray roe. Bowfin caviar—more commonly known by its Cajun name, Choupique—has a distinctively sturgeon essence, with a mild flavor and firm, black beads, although smaller in size than Beluga. Salmon caviar is a favorite of sushi chefs everywhere. Its intense salmon-flavored, juicy roe has a distinctive popping characteristic in the mouth. Lumpfish caviar from cold Nordic waters is surprisingly good-tasting despite the fact that it is not expensive. It comes in black and red and is one of the pasteurized caviar types.
Serving caviar
If serving caviar as an appetizer, you need to count about 50 grams per person, meaning that one pound serves 10 people. At one point Gerard and I had special caviar dishes that presented the caviar on shaved ice, with a special mother-of-pearl spoon (metal can affect the flavor of caviar). We have had some very good years and some much leaner ones, so we have learned many ways to enjoy caviar. One secret is that caviar marries very well with eggs, and an egg dish can be  transformed into a festive delight with a little bit of caviar.  
Classic Russian combinations
Caviar on
blini (tiny pancakes) with a dollop of crème frâiche or a mixture of sour cream and heavy cream. Toast points or a small, thinly sliced baguette will do. Caviar is also served with lemon wedges, finely chopped onion and chopped hard-boiled egg and capers.
Soft Boiled Eggs with Caviar
You will need about 12 grams of caviar per person—so for four people, buy 50 grams; for eight, you will need about 100 grams, or a quarter-pound. One farm-fresh egg per person. One- to two slices of toast per person. Soft-boil the eggs for three minutes. Let them cool off under running cold water and place them in the eggcups.  Cut the top part of the shell off. Stir the egg after adding some salt and white pepper. Add the caviar and decorate with a stem of fresh scallion. Serve with toast cut into strips so they can be dipped into the egg.
Scrambled Eggs with Caviar
You will need a teaspoon of caviar and two eggs per person. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with a quarter of a cup of half-and-half. Season with salt, and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large omelet pan. Add the eggs and cook them over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the desired doneness. Away from the heat, add another tablespoon of butter and stir until it has melted. Serve hot on a slice of toasted brioche with sprinkle one teaspoon of caviar over each portion at the table.

Caviar Pie


hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
6 ounces cream cheese, whipped or softened
½ cup sour cream
3½ ounces American caviar or black lumpfish roe
2 lemons, cut into wedges (for garnish)
3 sprigs parsley (for garnish)


Grease an 8-inch spring-form pan and set aside. Mix the chopped hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise to make an egg salad. Evenly spread it into the bottom of the spring-form pan and cover with a layer of chopped onion. Stir together cream cheese and sour cream until smooth and spread over the onion layer. Wrap the pan in cellophane and chill for at least three hours in the refrigerator (but it can stay overnight).

Once completely chilled, unwrap the pan and spread the caviar over the top. Run a knife around the edge of the pie and remove the side of the spring-form pan. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs before serving. Serve with baguette rounds or other bread on which people will spread the caviar pie.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Recipe: Pears Poached in Red Wine

6 medium-size pears
1 bottle red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Vanilla-bean ice cream (optional)

Peel the pears, leaving them whole with their stems in place. Pour the bottle of wine into a pot just big enough to hold the six pears. Add the cinnamon stick. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the insides into the wine and then add the bean. Add the sugar. Place the pears in the wine and simmer long enough for the pears to be cooked through yet still hold their shape, turning them from time to time to ensure they are evenly cooked and get the red color evenly. (A needle or the sharp edge of a knife should go in with no resistance—it should take about 20 minutes.) Allow pears to cool down in the liquid. Stand them upright and keep them in the liquid in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or up to 24 hours. 

Hours before serving, take pears out of the refrigerator and place them in a serving dish, standing upright if possible. (You can trim the bottom to flatten them to facilitate the standing-up). Heat the liquid in the casserole to a boil and allow to reduce until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. When serving dessert, dish out a pear with a tablespoon of vanilla bean ice cream (optional), and spoon some sauce over both.

Recipe: Alsatian Flamische

In Alsace Lorraine they make a pizza-like tart that I tried this past weekend to rave reviews. Having read in a French cookbook that it can be done with pizza dough if made on a pizza stone, I took Route 44 in the direction of Pleasant Valley and bought a pizza stone at Dutchess Restaurant Supply and a bag of fresh pizza dough and a slab of smoked bacon at Adams. The ceramic pizza stone evenly distributes the oven heat, while the porous nature of the stone helps absorb moisture—resulting in a crispy crust, much like one baked in a professional pizza oven. We made them small and served them with wine before a light dinner. Of course, one could make them larger and serve as the main course, but the cooking time would probably be a bit longer.  This is the recipe for the traditional Alsatian Flamische, but the variations of toppings for these "mini pizzas" are endless, including the famous Italian version with tomato sauce and mozzarella. 

(for 12 mini-tarts)
1 pizza dough
1 pound smoked slab bacon (Schaller & Weber)
1 cup crème fraȋche
3 small white onions, sliced very thin

Heat oven to 500° F. Place the pizza stone inside and allow it to heat for 25- to 30 minutes while you prepare the tarts. To prepare the bacon, trim off and discard the hard edges and excess fat and slice into thin pieces roughly a half-inch long (lardons). Roll out the pizza dough as thin as you can. Cut in half and roll out again. Cut in half yet again and roll out each of the four pieces again. Take a cookie cutter or wide glass or bowl and cut three rounds in each of the pizza-dough quarters (or cut each into three triangle shapes looking like pizza slices). Place a teaspoon of crème fraȋche at the center of each mini-pizza. Spread the cream out, but not to the edges. Add on some onion slices first, and then some lardons. Place the mini-pizzas on the hot stone in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove each one with the aid of a spatula. Serve immediately.