Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
1:00 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Caviar

You don’t eat caviar because you’re hungry. But the portion set before us at a dinner the other night was certainly capable of staving off a serious quantity of pang.

Containers filled with caviar.
Containers filled with caviar.
Credit Norman Van Aken

We all eye’d the curvaceous morsels of edible hedonism. They were caviar-stuffed, chive-tied crêpes perched upon the base of empty, over-turned, long stemmed Riedel wine glasses. This caviar presentation was done in the style of the legendary “beggars purses” as created by Chef Barry Wine the once-upon-a-gilded-time owner of the ‘Quilted Giraffe’ restaurant of New York City.

I’d heard Chef Wine used to insist that his guests used no hands nor even forks or spoons when eating the caviar plumped ‘purse’ He also it has been told favored taking pictures of some of his clientele who were instructed to put on elegantly designed handcuffs he had created by a Manhattan artisan for these moments of divine decadence! The “mode de emploi," (translated: “instructions” from French) he instructed had the guests leaning way over face first with their arms cuffed behind them; taking said purse between their lips and then standing upright consuming the luxurious cargo within the dainty crêpe.

I did not wait for anyone’s insisting on such from me I picked up my beggar’s purse with one hand and enjoyed it tremendously had a gulp of Champagne with the other 1995 Krug by the way and finished it followed by some more of the Krug.

In the movie “Titanic” there is the one dining scene where the action hero, Jack Dawson… played by Leonardo DiCaprio is allowed to dine with the first class guests, which include his gorgeous new love interest, Rose her driven mother, her lousy fiancée, a few other dandies and the woman known as the “unsinkable Molly Brown”. Ms. Brown helps young Jack overcome the hostile snobbery of the dinner being directed at him.

He sees a half dozen pieces of cutlery on each side of his plate and his eyes start to swim. The caviar service begins and she whispers, “Just start from the outside and work your way in.” The mother of pearl spoon is in front of him and he, instead, waves off the waiter bearing the beluga uttering, “I don’t like caviar.”

Jack sank a boatload of my respect!

Sturgeon have been in the waters of the Earth for over 250 million years. It is not clear when people first created and consumed what became known as caviar but it’s first written record was from the time of Batu Khan the grandson of Genghis Khan in the 1240’s. Local rulers in the by the Volga River employed “sturgeon masters”.

Sturgeon is the largest fish to enter fresh water. The beluga variety of sturgeon is a fish that is at least 20 years old before the roe are harvested. That is much larger than the other prized varieties, which include Osetra, Golden Osetra, and Sevruga. The beluga sturgeon can attain a weight of 2,500 pounds at that age, of which 10% is roe. Ka-ching! Greed and insensitive resource management nearly crushed caviar. But times have changed somewhat for the better.

It is a matter of personal taste which is better in regards to the varieties. But Malossol is a must to most… a term meaning “little salt”. The presence of salt preserves caviar but masks the flavors. World class caviar should be served as simply as possible. Forget chopped eggs, capers, onions. Handcuffs are optional.

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Recipe for latkes with caviar and sour cream

The rich tapestry of Jewish cooking finally reached my born in the farmland of Northern Illinois consciousness in the town of Boca Raton where many transplanted New Yorkers came to escape the winters but also hold fast to many of their delicious culinary traditions. Latkes dont have to only accompany applesauce. They are brilliant canapé holders for many ingredients. My very favorite two New Yorkers of all time, (My mother and grandmother) taught me to appreciate them with caviar. Every chance I get I honor their custom. A near frozen shot of Vodka is my choice to wash it down.

Yield: 16-18 latkes

Preheat oven to 375º

  • 4 Idaho potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 Cup finely ground breadcrumbs
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 8 scallions, white part mainly, cut crosswise, small rounds
  • 3 Tablespoons Roasted Garlic
  • Canola oil to cook the latkes in.

As Needed Caviar as desired!

Shred the potato and onion mixture on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl.

Toss the shredded onion and potato mix to ‘season’ the potatoes with the onion “juices”.

Gather the two mixtures up on a large section of rinsed cheesecloth. Allow the combination of potato and onion mixture to hang in a ball like shape about 15 minutes. The gravity will rid most of the ‘water’ from the potato and onion. Now twist and squeeze the cheesecloth to get the rest our. Carefully unwrap the ball of cheesecloth and place the potato and onion mix in a bowl. Fluff them out and gently pull out the strands somewhat as you do.

Mix the eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, baking powder, black pepper, scallions and Roasted Garlic all together in a bowl.

Now pour that egg mix over the potato and onion combination and toss to balance out the ingredients evenly.

Heat a heavy sauté pan. Add in the oil and allow it to come up about 1/8 inch. When the oil is fairly hot form a loose ‘cake’ with the mixture. Carefully drop the cake down in the hot oil and continue to make more cakes. Cook the cakes about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side allowing them to become crispy and golden. Remove them to absorbent toweling. Cook all of the latke cakes until done and sitting on the toweling.

When ready to serve put them in the preheated oven for about 2-3 minutes to heat through.

Place sour cream on each latke. Top with the best caviar the budget will allow. Serve.

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