Skip the Fancy Pearl Spoon and Keep Your Caviar Spread Casual
Tips on how to serve (and enjoy) the briny baubles best, including Champagne pairing alts.
Forget the glitz and glamour and luxury connotations: The real reason you should serve caviar this season (and anytime) is because these little baubles of salt pop with big, fascinating flavor. Putting caviar on the table is a way to show hospitality in Russian culture, explains Bonnie Morales of Portland, Oregon’s Kachka. “There’s no snootiness,” she says, just enjoyment and nutrition. She even put it on her happy hour menu to encourage customers to stop worrying about the price or scarcity and really focus on enjoying the intense flavor and remarkable texture.
The best way to break out the caviar, thus, is any way that makes your guests comfortable. Worry less about the delicateness of the delicacy and more about making sure that you set up the kind of party where people feel no shame in letting their eyes roll into the back of their head as the tiny explosions of brininess roll about in their mouth. Set yourself up for success ahead of time so that your laidback look influences your guests to dig into the caviar with aplomb and enthusiasm.
But if you need a little more preparation and concrete advice to embody that attitude, we have a guide on how and where to buy caviar, and some tips below on how best to serve it.
Go Big or Go Budget
Don’t be precious with the quantity. If you can’t afford enough of the high-end stuff, just ratchet down your caviar dreams to fancy fish egg fantasies. Caviar and caviar-like options exist across the price spectrum, so weigh your imported ambitions against your domestic paddlefish roe realities. More grams of a less expensive variety will make for more fun and festivity than watching all your guests worry if they took one or two beads more than their share. Getting the full flavor of caviar requires more than a sparse sprinkle, and if it looks plentiful, your guests will see that and serve themselves enough to truly enjoy.
Figure Out the Key to Opening Tins Ahead of Time
If you hate small fiddly tasks, buy your caviar from a place that uses small jars, like Tsar Nicoulai or Browne Trading Company, because copious amounts of caviar come in little vacuum-sealed tins that require a certain dexterity to open. The caviar companies will sell you a “key” to open them and it is absolutely the best tool, but you can use a short, wide flathead screwdriver or similarly shaped thin metal object—as long as you can get a decent grip on the handle. A butter knife works, just be careful. Press it up under the lip of the tin, then twist it, rotating the back of your hand toward yourself, much like you would when shucking an oyster.
Don’t Overthink the Spoon
If the dire-seeming warnings that you must use a mother-of-pearl spoon to serve your caviar give you anxiety, now you can relax. The idea is that you should avoid metal, as it will impart metallic taste into the fancy fish eggs. In reality, your stainless-steel home utensils probably won’t offer the same off flavors as somebody else’s silver. But if you are concerned, look around and remember all the other materials of utensil you have in your house: plastic takeout or kid spoons that say, “scoop some salty roe, we keep it casual,” elegant wooden chopsticks, or ceramic condiment spoons made for delicate dipping.
Go Beyond Bubbles
Champagne wishes don’t go with caviar dreams quite the way 1980s television led us to believe. Morales explains that she finds the fruitiness of even the driest sparkling wines to interfere in a way that the traditional Russian pairing of clean, neutral-flavored vodka does not. Her alt: Japanese sake. Seung Hee Lee, caviar connoisseur and author of Everyday Korean, loves Champagne, but also suggests the Korean spirit soju—especially some of the newly available premium versions coming into the U.S. For the non-alcoholic drinker, a nice sparkling water brings the fun bubbles of Champagne without any of the interfering flavors Morales dislikes.
Forget the Ice
It’s important to keep caviar as cold as possible before you eat it, but the colder a food is, the harder it is to taste the nuances. So store it in the very back of your fridge, maybe on ice packs, but also make sure that you let the caviar warm up a few minutes at room temperature before you serve it so that your guests get the full, buttery richness in every bite.
Fist Bumps Aren’t Just for Show
The extravagant-looking image of people eating lumps of caviar off the top of their hands seems to demonstrate a showy way to eat an expensive food, but the technique draws on solid reasoning about taste. “It’s to help warm it up a bit,” says Morales, who calls eating it off her own skin her preferred method. As the host, you may need to encourage others to get involved, but just spoon a “bump” of the eggs onto your hand and slurp them right off. Use a closed fist, held vertically, and drop the caviar on the expanse of skin between your thumb and the knuckle of your first finger. Your body temperature brings the caviar to the right temperature, and you get the purest taste of the delicacy.
Once you get a taste of it at its simplest, get creative! Lee says, “whatever needs crushed sea salt, you can put caviar on.” She likes it on Korean pancakes that she styles like pizza by slathering them with crème fraiche. Morales disagrees on the crème fraiche (she finds it too acidic), but does love cooking with caviar, like the caviar beurre blanc she uses to dress her potato dumplings. She looks for anything that matches the richness, like challah or white bread with butter. Similarly, caviar works great for simple, buttery pasta or soft-scrambled egg dishes, giving you more latitude to create a fun dish for your guests.