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Iranian caviar is tough to get in the U.S. thanks to trade sanctions, but these days caviar can also be had from Uruguay, Israel, China, Germany, France, as well as the United States, with prominent aquaculture farms in California, North Carolina, and Florida. The largest wild sturgeon can take as long as 25 years to start producing eggs, and harvesting said eggs differ from, say, hen egg production. Put more bluntly, the fish must be dispatched with (no-kill caviar is still a work in progress).
Translation: This stuff is expensive; a pound of the best caviar can easily cost more than a midsize car. Restaurants can easily charge $200 or more for a single serving. Whether you’re having it at a fine dining establishment or at home, here are 10 things you need to know about eating caviar to best enjoy it without going totally broke.
- Expect to spend a lot of money.
Retail, entry-level sturgeon roe won’t cost less than $65 to $85 per 30 grams (just over one ounce), with some of the really good stuff starting at around $150 or more. Caviar service rarely costs less than $100 in a restaurant. Le Bernardin asks $220 for an ounce of osetra a la carte, while Daniel charges nearly $400 for 50 grams.
- Consider eating your caviar at home.
Let’s be frank; restaurants don’t do much to improve caviar. They buy it, open up the tin, and spoon it into a serving vessel alongside some blini and creme fraiche. The most complicated part is how much to mark it up (cha-ching!).
Most of the good roe you try in restaurants is purchased from Petrossian, Caviar Russe, Paramount, or other suppliers that also sell their diverse wares at retail counters, where individual customers pay neither tax (caviar is exempt in New York City) nor tip. Think of it this way: Would you rather shell out $200 to eat caviar at a fancy restaurant, or buy the same product from Petrossian for $150?
this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat roe out on the town; sometimes it’s nice to celebrate a night out.
- Remember: Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The absolute worst thing you can do when ordering caviar is to pick the most expensive roe for no other reason than it being the spendiest. Just as a 1954 Petrus isn’t necessarily better than a fresh and sprightly German Riesling, a $500 tin of Kaluga won’t automatically make you happier than a little $10 jar of trout roe. Approach caviar-like you would wine — not by price, but by style.
- Consider texture.
If pop is really what you want, there’s no better place to find it than with “red” caviar. Trout roe, which you’ll find as frequently as avocado toast in most any American restaurant, packs almost as much firmness as bubble wrap, with subtle salts and oil. And then there’s salmon roe, which is softer and more delicate but also larger, which means an extra-strong dose of fishy oil.