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Eat and Drink

Caviar 101: Everything you need to know to start enjoying fish eggs

To some, caviar may seem intimidating. Fish eggs?! The small orbs of caviar can sell for thousands of dollars for a small portion and pretty much scream luxury when paired with accoutrements like champagne or oysters. But caviar doesn't have to be inaccessible or indigestible -- plenty of affordable, unique varieties exist to please almost any palate.

We chatted with Edward Eliachov, Director of Operations at Olma Caviar Boutique & Bar and sampled plenty of fish roe to help debunk caviar for you.

What is caviar?

Caviar is processed and salt cured fish roe.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Caviar is processed and salt cured fish roe. While caviar is often used as an umbrella term to describe any fish egg, true caviar comes from sturgeon, native to the Caspian and Black Seas. Varieties of sturgeon include beluga, sevruga and osstreta and each species produces a slightly different flavored caviar.

It's not just Russian aristocracy who made dining on caviar prestigious. Splurging on caviar dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times, followed by Russian Tsars and European royalty. Caviar become more prominent in the U.S. when sturgeon were discovered to live in U.S. rivers, though much of our caviar is still imported.

Why eat caviar?

Firstly, many people find it delicious. You

Firstly, many people find it delicious. You may struggle to put a spoonful of fish eggs in your mouth, but you'll get there. If you like salty foods, or cured fish (like smoked salmon), caviar may be your new favorite snack.

One of the most popular ways to eat caviar is on a blini, or small pancake-like crepe, with creme fraiche. Similar to a bagel with lox and cream cheese in that you get your carbs, dairy and salty fish product, this is beginners caviar eating. Some caviar enthusiasts will eat caviar by the spoonful while others will use it to make dishes more decadent. Caviar omelets, caviar-topped pizzas, caviar salad and even caviar toast are a few renditions of caviar-centric foods in New York.

Caviar is also known to be healthy, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals intended to nourish unborn fish. (Sorry unborn baby fish). Reported health benefits include boosting immune function as well as a high levels of omega-3s said to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Caviar has also become a prominent beauty aid. La Prairie uses caviar in their facial products, including a luxe sleep mask ($300) and a face cream ($420), attributing the proteins and nutrients in caviar extracts to helping create younger-looking skin. If you do try caviar and don't like it, consider rubbing the leftovers on your face.

What's the best kind of caviar?

Just as some may prefer the sweet

Just as some may prefer the sweet brunch menu to the savory, there are plenty of unique options in caviar that do not necessarily make one variety better than another.

Caviar from different fish can be different in size, texture and flavor. White sturgeon caviar ($54.50/oz at Olma) has a milder fish flavor while still packing in the salt. Beluga black caviar ($199/oz) is a coveted delicacy, but also has an acquired taste many caviar newbies may not enjoy. Paddlefish Black Caviar ($21/oz) has a bitter taste, those who like espresso may prefer it, while Hackleback Sturgeon Black Caviar ($26/oz) has a notably oilier texture.

Orange or red salmon caviar ($6.50/2oz) has larger pieces, which may be hard for some to enjoy but a much more subtle flavor.

The best way to know which kind of caviar is for you is to taste, just as you would any food with hundreds of varieties.

Why is caviar so expensive?

Advances in aquaculture and fish farming have
Photo Credit: Olma Caviar Bar

Advances in aquaculture and fish farming have made caviar less expensive than it used to be, but it's still no cheap treat. Paddle Fish Black Caviar and Bowfin Black Caviar both come from wild sturgeon in Mississipi, greatly decreasing the price.

Olma imports caviar from as far as South Korea and Israel, much of which is to appease Russian clientele, but some may prefer the American caviar, which retails around $20/oz.

Caviar is high in price because it is labor intensive. Only female fish carry egg sacs and must grow to maturity before they can be fertilized and then fished out. The fish meat is then sold for other purposes but the usable caviar from each fish must then be cleaned, processed and cured for consumption. Olma operates a plant in Sheepshead Bay which sells wholesale to local restaurants, keeping the prices low and caviar somewhat affordable to those who wish to indulge.

How can I enjoy caviar to its fullest extent?

While caviar is a treat, it does
Photo Credit: Olma Caviar

While caviar is a treat, it does have plenty of everyday opportunities for enjoyment -- some Russian eat it for breakfast with a spoon! Caviar can be used as a topping for pretty much any savory dish or enjoyed as a garnish or totally on its own. Pair with champagne or vodka for optimal enjoyment.

Caviar doesn't have to be just a restaurant food -- it can be enjoyed at home to instantly make a party more impressive or even eaten off a mother of pearl caviar soon in front of Netflix, because why not?

Where can I enjoy caviar in NYC?

Caviar is popping up everywhere! Try caviar
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ulteriorepicure

Caviar is popping up everywhere!

Try caviar at Olma's sit-down bar, The Upper West Side's Petrossian, Ariana in SoHo, Caviar Russe on Madison Ave. and even Lower East Side gourmet grocer Russ & Daughters. Caviar can also be enjoyed in dishes like Caviar Panna Cotta at Per Se, crispy egg caviar at Perry St., Jean Georges' egg caviar Jean-Georges and in many more tasty renditions at upscale restaurants.


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