Most guys know two things about caviar: it comes from a fish and it’s expensive. If you’ve sampled the stuff at all, it’s probably been in the context of a black tie wedding, an iconic restaurant, or any rarified occasion that calls for expense and extravagance. But change is afoot in the world of expensive fish eggs—in no small part because something about the pandemic changed the way we look at the finer things in life.
“People’s attitudes toward luxury experiences has completely changed post-Covid,” says Kristen Shirley, luxury expert and founder of La Patiala, an online luxury encyclopedia. “No one wants to wait years to take that dream trip, go to that bucket-list restaurant, or even open a special bottle of wine they’ve been saving. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so everyone is trying to pack as much joy into their lives as possible.”
Coincidentally, there are a few new entrants to the caviar market that are making sustainable, enjoyable, and (marginally) more wallet-friendly options available. Internationally renowned oyster farm Island Creek Oysters out of Duxbury, MA, for one, has been dipping its toes into the caviar space in recent years, and finding success at it.
“Our caviar sales have doubled year over year for the last five years,” said Chris Sherman, CEO. He and his team work with a number of caviar producers both domestic and international to offer a selection of caviars under the tenets of the Island Creek brand: approachability and quality. Sherman pointed out that most of the world’s great caviar has traditionally come from Russia, Iran and China—three countries with less than well-regulated supply chains—but the expantion of aquaculture in American has fostered the growth of caviar that is “not only more ubiquitous and affordable, but tradable and sustainable as well.”
That’s why Island Creek is able to offer a 30-gram tin of white sturgeon caviar from Sterling Caviar Farms in Elverta, California, for $108. A hundred bucks to spice up you next game night, date night, or just a Tuesday night…why not?
Other entrants in the accessible caviar space include Hackleback Caviar, sourced from Tenneessee River, starting at just $46 for an ounce, or California-sourced Passmore Caviar for $74.50 for 10 grams. At those prices, you can just buy them all to have a taste test and see which ones you like best. It’s what we do with wine and spirits, after all.
“Times have changed,” adds Alexandra Du Cane, co-founder of Pointy Snout Caviar, which sells an excellent range of osetra, white sturgeon, and Siberian caviars. “People are making caviar an everyday experience. Take the formality out of it. This is not just something for your grandmother’s birthday once a year with white gloves and a drumroll. Have it for breakfast, have it for brunch, have it at midnight in bed.”
The possibilities for pairing are endless—and they invite creativity, as well. It wasn’t so long ago that the New York Times reported that caviar “bumps” are, in fact, all the rage. Sure, there’s a time and a place for licking a lump of fish roe off your hand. But if you’re more interested in how it can dress up some of your favorite foods, we asked several chefs and caviar experts for their favorite unconventional takes on how to best indulge.
Caviar with peanut butter and popcorn
“Many chefs like to showcase caviar for what it is on its own, but I like to use it a bit differently—to showcase its natural salinity,” says Jenner Tomaska, chef and co-owner of Esmé in Chicago. Tomaska’s “Artist Palette” dish is a creative DIY approach that invites the eater to explore its possibilities by mixing and matching several unconventional pairings. “Popcorn, peanuts, and even our sweet potato ice cream all need salt, and caviar’s briny, fish-forward flavor draws out the nuances and complexity of all those ingredients. It’s is always something our guests are excited about, and it’s fun to see their relations to this more unexpected presentation.”
“The cannoli came about by happy accident,” says chef Blake Shailes of Grandmaster Recorders in Los Angeles. “We were playing around trying to make Italian food fun. Something sweet and savory with a rockstar flair—a luxury sweet and a savory snack. The dish is cannoli filled with a clam and white marsala cream, each end capped with caviar.”
Caviar hot dogs
At Island Creek Raw Bar in Duxbury, MA, a casual drinks-and-snacks garden overlooking the oyster farms of Duxbury Bay, the menu’s all-star is a hot dog generously doused with caviar and a schmear of crème fraîche. “Hot dogs are the fastest way to democratize it,” says Sherman.
Caviar on sweets
“Putting caviar on blinis [Russian pancakes] is perfectly acceptable but really quite boring,” says Michael Du Cane, co-founder of Pointy Snout. “The things that caviar tends to go well with don’t deflect its inherent flavor. We love serving it on ice cream, and have made so many different types of homemade ice cream. Orange blossom ice cream, green mint ice cream, black charcoal ice cream. We’ve also presented it with white chocolate, and it was divine.”
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