Despite its widely recognized status as a paradigm of luxury food caviar, most of us have never really considered where it comes from. Yes, we all know it consists of fish eggs, but there is still the matter of transforming those raw eggs into the caviar we know.
A few eager chefs are aiming to bring the process into focus by getting involved in it themsevles and shrinking the distance between fish farms and the dining room. Matthew Accarrino of San Francisco's SPQR is one such chef. Accarrino explained why he is producing his own caviar when he dropped by our test kitchen to make his Sturgeon Salad 'Chips and Dip' with Caviar.
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Better understanding of a beloved ingredient
While chef Accarino hails from the Midwest (St. Louis), he's come to love the bounty of seafood available on the west coast. "Once I was in SF for a couple years, I branched further out and formed relationships with sea urchin farmers and an abalone company," he says. "Then once I started using sturgeon, which is a great Northern California local ingredient, I realized that this is where caviar comes from. I’ve used caviar my whole career, but this seemed pretty unique."
More control of the caviar's flavor and size
After observing a harvest, Accarino decided to get more hands on with the process. "I went out into the water, helped biopsy the fish and checked the eggs," he explained. "It's almost like wine where you look at the grapes and consider how this will be in the bottle. It’s the same way with fish eggs and caviar, you can see by size and taste what the eggs will turn into."
Better caviar starts with selecting the right eggs
Accarino realized that the best way to produce the caviar he wanted was to first know how to spot the right eggs. "I like my caviar buttery, a little nutty and with larger sized eggs," he said. "Once you know what characteristics you want, now you what to look for when you biopsy the fish."
A better story for the ingredient
Caviar regularly appears on the SPQR menu and Accarino wanted a more personal story to share with guests. "When you find what you’re looking for, you take that fish, remove the roe, clean it, cure it and package it," he explained. "At that point, I’ve had my hands on the entire process and now I have a story for that ingredient whenever it’s used in the restaurant."
An enhanced guest experience
"If I can share the story of the caviar, along with my personal experience, with guests, it’s much better than just buying it somewhere," he said. "That’s why I’m seeking out these relationships with fish farms: to elevate the guest experience and it ultimately comes down to wanting to be good at what you do."