Caviar wishes, anyone?
Try a caviar party when nothing but the best will do.
And don't be surprised if you save money, time and energy in the long run. Parties focused on a single food item are generally easier to handle and less costly than multifood parties.
Besides, there are so many types available at a wide range of prices that you can actually control the cost to suit your budget.
You can reach for the stars with beluga caviar at $500 or more per pound, or tumble down to Earth with a respectable and very good American Golden caviar at about $35 a pound. You can even use the excellent roes of whitefish, lumpfish and salmon even less expensively.
How about a caviar tasting? You'll want to offer a sampling of several grades and types, starting with the creme de la creme Caspian beluga, osietra and sevruga, and contrasting those with American caviars, as well as the excellent, but less expensive, roes of whitefish, lumpfish and salmon.
You probably won't find sterlet, the rarest of all caviars, in markets here. The golden roe of the sterlet, according to Charlie Asatryan, caviar expert and vice president of Ron's retail and wholesale market in Los Angeles, is available only through connections in the Kremlin or on the tables of Middle Eastern royalty. A specially processed blend of sterlet and other caviars has been known to find its way to the United States, so keep an ear and eye out for a source.
The ideal--and traditional--beverage to serve with caviar is vodka. Have a few bottles of various vodkas (Russian, Finnish, American among them) embedded in blocks of ice to serve icy cold in shot glasses, or, if preferred, as a mixed drink. Champagne or any other dry, sparkling wine is good too.
The simplest and probably the most common way to serve caviar is on a cracker, toast or cucumber. A few drops of lemon juice sometimes are used by those who want to kill either the saltiness or the fishy taste, but generally, caviar should stand on its own if fresh.
Garnishes, such as finely minced hard-cooked egg and onion, are optional, but they do add a touch of charm to a caviar feast. The practice by some connoisseurs of eating caviar in a small mound mounted on the back of the hand between thumb and index finger, is--for true aficionados--the most enjoyable, but not as practical as eating caviar on toast or crackers.
Another simple way of eating caviar is with a spoon, according to Asatryan.
"If you want to keep things as simple as possible, I recommend using an ivory spoon and nothing more, because ivory does not transfer foreign odors to the caviar," he said. You'll find such caviar spoons at some Russian gift stores. In fact, Russian gift stores are a good shopping stop for caviar party needs. Terek in Los Angeles is one such store.
However, to jazz up a caviar party, you might want to serve caviar Russian style over buttered blinis (buckwheat preferred), which you dab with sour cream and roll to eat out of hand or with a fork. Blinis are nothing more than thin pancakes that you can make ahead and freeze. However, you might persuade a Russian restaurant to sell you a batch.
Then for a different presentation, fill butter-drenched cavities of split, hollowed, tiny baked potatoes with a bare teaspoon of caviar. You can add garnishes or not.
One of the best ways to present caviar for a party is to display the caviar in their cans and jars on crushed ice. Use a basin large enough to accommodate spacing of the caviar on the ice and decorate the surface of the ice with frilly greens, colorful citrus, orchids and other flowers. Keep toast, blini or other breads warm on a warming tray or warmer; keep the garnishes, such as minced onion, parsley, egg white, egg yolk, sour cream and lemon wedges, in dishes on ice.
When shopping for caviar, be sure to use a reputable dealer. Some good houses will open a tin and let you inspect before you buy, depending, of course, on store policy. The eggs should be bright, firm and shiny with oily covering. Avoid tins in which eggs appear dry and dull. The life span of fresh caviar is brief, so once opened, the can should be refrigerated to use within two or three weeks at best, according to Asatryan. Pasteurized caviar, which is vacuum-packed, will remain fresh indefinitely with or without refrigeration. Asatryan, when traveling, keeps a jar or two of pasteurized caviar in his briefcase for a daily snack.
When buying beluga, be sure you are paying the price for beluga and not a blend of several species, according to Asatryan. A reputable dealer is your guarantee of quality.
Size of eggs has nothing to do with quality, but rather with palate preference. American aficionados seem to prefer the large, gray eggs produced by beluga sturgeon, while Europeans prefer the smaller, firmer eggs. Firmer, smaller eggs do, however, hold up better to handling than the softer, larger eggs, which can be easily crushed, thus losing their beauty.