Pressed caviar—or payusnaya in Russian—is a smooth, dense, nicely salty paste made from the fish eggs that break during the packing of traditional caviar. Once quite common in France, it was featured at New York City’s famed Le Pavillon restaurant, where I worked in the late 1950s. In the past 20 years, however, pressed caviar has almost disappeared from the market. In an attempt to bring it back, I recently partnered with the California Caviar Company to create a new pressed sturgeon caviar. I hope my recipes will inspire people to try it.
Unlike traditional caviar, which is best served on its own, pressed caviar is versatile and most delicious when incorporated into dishes. A cook can place a small amount between sheets of plastic wrap, roll it out thinly and cut out any shape. Formed into a disk or strip, pressed caviar can turn a roasted fingerling potato into a simple canapé or transform an omelet into a luxe breakfast. It’s thick enough to dice and add to a tangy salmon tartare. Or, frozen and grated, it can become an exceptional garnish for a creamy shrimp pasta with mushrooms.
Jacques Pépin’s Payusnaya pressed caviar is available from the California Caviar Company ($48 per oz; californiacaviar.com).
Jacques Pépin’s Quick Caviar Glossary
Only fish eggs from sturgeon are considered true caviar. Others are generally identified by fish: trout caviar, salmon roe, etc.
Beluga sturgeon can weigh up to 2,000 pounds; their eggs are the largest, most flavorful and most expensive.
Osetra caviar comes from several different kinds of sturgeon; osetra eggs are smaller than beluga but larger than sevruga.
A relatively small variety of sturgeon, sevruga weigh as little as 20 to 30 pounds and yield the smallest eggs.
The term malossol, which means “lightly salted” in Russian, usually refers to the highest quality caviar eggs.
The Russian name for pressed caviar, payusnaya is a densely concentrated paste made from broken caviar eggs.
More and more, U.S. companies are creating domestic caviar—some from native American species like the paddlefish.