Get the most out of your splurge with these tips from a caviar expert
Whether you're splurging on your first tin of caviar for the holidays (here’s how to buy it, by the way), or regularly frequenting the kind of high-rolling hang where it’s served, there are some common caviar myths we'd like to dispel for you, right now. We sat down with Christopher Klapp of Petrossian, the 98-year old caviar brand of Parisian origin, and he gave us a primer on how to make the most of those pricey little fish eggs.
Myth: It’s only enjoyed with blinis, chives or other accoutrements.
Of course, the delicacy will be served with accompaniments unless you’re at a caviar tasting. Eggs, minced onion and black bread with butter are some more popular pairings, too, and they're delicious. But if you’re serious about appreciating the flavor of caviar—especially if you’re trying to discern the nuances between two or more varieties—try a little spoonful plain first. Just don’t use a metal spoon. (More on that below.)
Myth: You should chew caviar. (Because, why wouldn’t you?)
When tasting it plain, resist that urge to chew. “You should use your tongue, never use your teeth,” Klapp says. “You can really feel the bead of the caviar and the butteriness of the fat that way.” He points to the fact that you don’t have any taste receptors in your teeth, and so when you chew the caviar, a lot of its flavor can be lost. In many ways, you want to approach tasting caviar like you would a wine, he says: Hold a spoonful underneath your nose, and take in the aromas. Then put the spoon on your tongue, and turn it upside down so all the beads make contact with your tongue. You want to breathe through your mouth a bit here, like how you might spray a wine across your palate. This helps extract the full aroma—and flavor—from the caviar.
The better quality the caviar, the more complex the tasting notes, Klapp says—like any other food product, really. A higher quality caviar may have a flavor profile that lingers and develops even after you swallow. So don’t take a sip of that drink right away.
Myth: Champagne is the most traditional pairing.
“Vodka is actually a more traditional pairing than Champagne,” Klapp says. It actually makes sense, given caviar’s historical foundations in the Caspian and Black Sea, which nestle up to Russia and Ukraine. “Russian vodka is very clean,” Klapp says, “And it has an antiseptic quality that cleanses that palette.”
At the same time, he acknowledges that the celebratory and luxury associations with Champagne are unrivaled. “Champagne has this effervescent effect, both literally and figuratively. The feelings that it evokes are lively ones, whereas with vodka—I can’t think of common parlance for it—you get a different kind of drunk,” he says. If you do go the Champagne route, pick a dry one. Look for the designation “brut,” “extra brut” or “brut natural,” the last of which is the driest designation possible with absolutely no sugar.
“Caviar is so buttery because it’s got those natural oils and fats,” Klapp says, “So I like something that really counteracts that. The dryness of Champagne brings out the saline quality of caviar, whereas the creaminess and viscosity of sugar really competes with it.”
Myth: It’s traditionally enjoyed with a silver spoon.
Given its connotations of luxury, one might imagine caviar best enjoyed on gold or silver spoons, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“Caviar absorbs flavors of the metal, just as it absorbs salt,” Klapp says. Metal interferes with the delicate flavor profiles of caviar, and you’ll be tasting the silver or steel in your spoon. (The metal tins Petrossian serves their caviar in are coated with a non-reactive coating on the inside.) Instead, Klapp says that bone, ivory and mother of pearl have been historically used. “Mother of pearl comes from the sea, so from a story perspective, it fits.” (We will say that we wouldn’t recommend buying ivory or bone due to concerns with illegal poaching.)
Myth: Don’t serve caviar ice cold.
Nope, serve it ice cold—quite literally. Klapp serves up his tins at 35 degrees. “Caviar doesn’t freeze until about 27 or 28 degrees,” he says, so freezing it isn’t a concern. (By the way, you do want to be careful to never actually freeze caviar, or buy caviar that has been frozen—a danger with smaller purveyors that might not move product as quickly—because it will adversely affect the texture.)
There’s no need to put a smaller tin on ice, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to splurge on a larger tin (or have friends who can), that’s probably a good idea. Also, be sure to store it in the coldest part of your fridge.