Caviar or Khavyar – A Two Sided Tale

Oysters,  appearance,  first eaten,  who produces it,  farming?

The word caviar is derived from the Persian word mahi-e-Khayedar which refers to an egg bearing fish. The Turkish word khavyar is an Iranian word – also derived from the Persian word Khayedar.
Caviar must have originated somewhere in the Caspian sea around 2,400 BC. The sturgeon (one pictured below) with their huge swim bladders containing the caviar, can weigh far more than 1000 kilograms and have lifespans of more than a century. They were around at the same time as the dinosaurs, which is why they are often referred to as “living fossels”.


There is much reference made to caviar in ancient history and we can be sure that it has been enjoyed by man since 2,400 BC at least! The Carthaginians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Phoenicians all ate this delicacy until the modern day Russians inherited it from from their ancestors, the Mongols.  The ancients used to salt and pickle the roe for the long sea trips they undertook, but the Greeks were much grander, trumpeting the caviar into their lavish banquets, platters garnished royally. (Reminds me of the Scots and their haggis, actually).  For fun, a really luxurious addition to the breakfast table.

Caviar Cream

Makes enough for about 6 people

Ingredients

300 grams caviar (osetra)
300 ml mascarpone (or even soured cream for those preferring something lighter)
1 lemon zest
50 g fresh Italian parsley, chopped
30 g very young fresh celery stalks, finely sliced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, setting about 100 grams of caviar aside. Put in a container and freeze for about 40 minutes – just long enough to set the mixture slightly but not allowing any crystals to form. Use an ice cream scoop (or something similar) and spoon carefully into a serving dish. Garnish with the rest of the caviar.
Serve with freshly smoked salmon and crackers, toast, tiny potato rösti or miniature crispy pancakes for breakfast.

Caviar was expensive from the time of the Romans right up to the days of the Russian Tzars. In the year 200 AD one jar of caviar was valued at 100 sheep in Rome and it remained expensive until the Russians became an industrialized nation and they over fished and almost destroyed the sturgeon populations in and around their fishing grounds! Caviar could be found everywhere in Russia and the prices dropped drastically.
But, like all things discovered and harvested en masse both the source and the supply dried up…… but then,  the prices of caviar went up pretty quickly again and it remains one of the most expensive foods on the market today.

One can never ignore the Iranian influence or the fact that Iran does produce outstanding Caviar.  In 1927 Iran and Russia entered into a joint venture, which ensured that the two nations would, effectively, control the production of caviar in the world. Good Russian caviar became rare whilst Iranian caviar flourished, thus becoming a new and coveted delicacy.  To this day the debate about who has the better caviar rages on – the main argument centering around the osetra, as the preferred caviar and not only on the expensive sevruga and almost priceless beluga. Some connoisseurs are convinced that the warm water of the northern Caspian produces the better product and others, like me know absolutely that the colder, deeper, cleaner, southern Caspian does. Both types come from the same fish, the Gueldenstaedtii.

I tasted the Iranian caviar once and frankly, I prefer it – the taste and the feel on the tongue is pure perfection.  So let’s all shoot me now.  It is very difficult to get hold of real caviar these days and for this reason farming has become lucrative and popular, creating potential poaching grounds for a new generation of thieves that have already started damaging this industry as well and so it seems as if caviar will always be rare and always expensive – not necessarily a bad thing.

May history repeat itself!

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