How To Make Caviar
You love eating caviar, but how much do you really know about making it?
We delve into the world of caviar and explore how caviar is made. As luxurious and coveted as caviar is, it does seems deceptively easy to make: after all, you just need some fish eggs and some salt, right? Not so fast. While the ingredients might be simple, the methods of making caviar are not. Much like aging a fine cheese or selecting the best grapes for wine, there’s an art to making caviar that goes beyond tossing a little salt on some fish eggs.
The birth of caviar - almost literally- begins with the removal of the fish eggs (roe) from the sturgeon. One of the many reasons sturgeon populations have been in such sharp decline is because the most predominant method of extracting the eggs from the sturgeon involves the actual killing of the fish (either before or after the removal of the egg sack). The roe is sieved and "filtered" into different sizes, and then carefully cleaned and rinsed. Classification takes place according to size and color and the caviar moves on to the salting step.
The purpose of salting is primarily to preserve the caviar, and maintain as much of the 'fresh' flavor as possible. Therefore, the amount of salt used can vary. "Malossol" caviar - the most superior type- is prepared with little salt. Other types of caviar can be more or less salted. Although things have changed over the years, one thing still remains true: the salt. A special kind of salt was - and is- used to prepare caviar, a chlorine-free salt from the Russian Astrakhan Steppe, stored for seven years to assure the least chlorine content.
How to Make Caviar: Harvesting the Eggs
The first step to making caviar is fishing or harvesting a female sturgeon ripe with eggs (for a full definition on caviar, see our What is Caviar section). Caviar is made from the unfertilized eggs of the female sturgeon. The sturgeon is fished, opened, and the eggs are manually removed, cleaned and separated. And here’s where the caviar master’s skill comes into play, as he or she carefully removes the membrane surrounding the eggs and separates them, gently and expertly, so the caviar’s texture is preserved, and the eggs aren’t crushed. The delicate eggs are then carefully strained, and salted.
How to Make Caviar: Salting
Fine caviar is always “malossol”, a Russian terms for “little salt”. Salting preserves the caviar, extending its shelf life, but it also gives it a wonderful subtle flavor. Salting caviar is a skill acquired over time: too much salt and the delicate walls of the eggs break, too little of it and the caviar will spoil and the taste will be off. The highest quality caviar has a salt content of 3% (and sometimes even less). Salt is added to the caviar, left to impregnate and then washed off.
How to Make Caviar: Drying, Grading and Tinning
After salting, the caviar is dried over steel racks and then tested so it can be graded (find more information on caviar grades here). The texture, color, glossiness, size and many other factors are considered, which will determine the quality of the caviar and grade it will get. This is the the final step before it is packaged in tins packed tightly with airtight lids, and then sent to be sold.
How To Make Caviar With Molecular Gastronomy: Spherification
Chances are you’ve encountered many kinds of caviar in restaurants that are definitely NOT made of fish eggs at all. These types of "caviar" are made using spherification, a molecular gastronomy technique. This relatively new and innovative cooking process puts science into cooking, using chemistry and physics to create fun and unexpected shapes and flavors with food. Spherification uses sodium alginate (a salt derived from algae) and calcium chloride to create a membrane around liquid, encapsulating it and creating a small sphere that look a lot like real caviar, bursting with flavor once you bite into them. Fruit juices, chocolate, cocktails, soups, sauces, desserts, those are just a few of the fun and delicious things you can turn into "caviar" using molecular gastronomy.