Caviar has a reputation for being hoity-toity: it’s the stuff Eustace Tilley, Queen Elizabeth, and Frasier Crane might gather around at a dinner party. But fish eggs weren’t always a delicacy, and there’s nothing inherently unapproachable about them. In fact, they used to be an everyday snack and an American export: At the turn of the 20th century, the Hudson and the Delaware were two of the biggest caviar-producing rivers in the world. As Josh Russ Tupper of New York’s iconic Russ & Daughters shop explains it, “Salted caviar was so prevalent, it was sitting on bars like peanuts.” (Like peanuts, the salt helped encourage drinkers to keep drinking.) Overfishing eventually caused domestic suppliers to run dry, tipping the balance in favor of importers across the Atlantic, which is why it got more expensive. But that’s not to say everyone can’t enjoy it. Our handy guide shows you how.
Troutroe, $35 for 125 grams (back left), salmon roe, $25 for 125 grams (center), and wasabi roe, $20 for 125 grams (back right). Photo by Liz Barclay.
HOW TO EAT IT
1. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS.
Technically, only sturgeon eggs can be called caviar. All other fish eggs are called roe. Either way, they usually taste briny. But different eggs carry distinct flavor profiles—from mildly sweet to more savory, nutty, buttery flavors. Some species, like trout roe, have a lighter flavor, while others, like salmon, are more pronounced. Texture varies widely, too, from a light, crunchy snap to a juicy pop.
2. SERVE AS YOU LIKE.
Traditionally, caviar is eaten with Russian-style blini pancakes and crème fraîche. You can also have it on potato latkes with sour cream, on eggs (prepared any style), on pasta, and so on. Of course—and you can’t blame them—some people just enjoy it straight out of the tin.
3. SKIP THE FANCY SPOON.
Caviar is traditionally served with dainty mother-of-pearl spoons. There’s a good reason—metal can oxidize the eggs, giving them a metallic tang. But the clamshell is entirely unnecessary. A plastic spoon will do.
Trout roe, $35 for 125 grams. Photo by Liz Barclay.
HOW TO BUY IT
1. DON’T SPEND A TON.
Some of the best caviar (or roe) can be found at lower prices. “There’s certainly a more refined experience with the more expensive caviars,” says Russ, “but it’s not always the best.” We love the briny taste of bright orange salmon roe ($25 for 125 grams) or the rich, deep flavor of paddlefish roe ($50 for 50 grams).
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Whether you want to spend a little or a lot, find a reputable vendor who can help find the right caviar for you. If you go shopping with a flavor profile and a price in mind, a good caviar seller will be able to find something you’ll like and help determine how much you’ll need.
3. PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT.
Good caviar has a short shelf life. So only buy what you’ll eat right away. It should be refrigerated and served cold (but it doesn’t need to actually be served on ice).