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Caviar Rundown

Annie Roi/flickr creative commons

Tonight's the big night and there's still time to go out and do something crazy to help ring in the new year.  For that portion of the population with refined and cultivated taste, nothing quite beats caviar for putting a big exclamation point on evening's festivities.  Chef Jerry Pellegrino believes, it pays to know what you're talking about when it comes to caviar.

Important Terms

Caviar – the salted eggs (roe) of various species of sturgeon, and by extension (improperly, some would say) edible eggs of other fish.

The main types of caviar are label by the species of sturgeon they come from:

Beluga-the biggest of all sturgeons, the only carnivore, and incredibly rare, produces the largest eggs of light gray to nearly black color.

Osetra-can live up to 80 years and produce eggs of varying color. Since Osetra is a bottom feeder, the eggs take on the flavor of whatever they are eating.

Servuga-is the smallest sturgeon caught commercially and produces eggs grey-black in color with a fine grain.

Malassol-is a mark of quality in caviar.  It refers to caviar that has been lightly salted from fish caught at the beginning of the season.

American Sturgeon Caviar –caviar harvested from sturgeon of the northwestern coast of the US.  I’ve encountered three very unique types.

Paddlefish Caviar- sturgeon similar to osetra, but with noticeably darker eggs

Hackleback Caviar – very similar to sevruga

Bowfin Caviar – these are not actually sturgeon, but an even older armored fish  species.  The caviar is similar to osetra.

Lumpfish Roe-produced in Denmark from the gastronomic curiosity the Lumpfish, it is considered a crude approximation of true caviar by aficionados.

As far as Jerry is concerned, the best and simplest way to serve caviar is on a blini, the small buckwheat flour pancakes.  Put a dollop of sour cream on the blini, then spoon on the caviar.  Simple!

The best blinis incorporate yeast into the batter.  Here is a great recipe from Williams Sonoma.


1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour (use more whole wheat
  flour if buckwheat is unavailable)

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1 cup warm water

1 cup milk

3 eggs, separated

1/2 tsp. salt

2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil for frying

4 to 6 oz. caviar

1 pint crème fraîche


1.  In a small bowl, make a sponge by combining the whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, the yeast, sugar and warm water; stir until blended. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

2.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk by cooking it to just under a boil. Let cool to room temperature and set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and salt until light in texture and color, then gradually whisk in the butter until smooth. Stir in the scalded milk, then stir in the remaining 1 cup all-purpose flour until smooth. Fold in the sponge until the batter is smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place to rise, 30 to 40 minutes.

4.  In a large copper or other mixing bowl, using a whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. (When the whisk is lifted out of the bowl and inverted, the whites on the end of the whisk should remain upright, with just a slight bend at the tip.) Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter and let stand for 10 to 12 minutes.

5.  In a large nonstick fry pan or griddle over medium heat, warm just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Using a tablespoon, drop the batter onto the pan (1 Tbs. batter will make a blini 3 inches in diameter). Cook 3 to 5 blini at a time; do not crowd the pan. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

6.  Fill a large serving bowl with chipped ice, and set the tin of caviar and a dish of crème fraîche on top. Serve the blini alongside. Makes 50 to 60 blini.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.