Last Updated on July 23, 2021
Caviar, blinis and vodka – a Russian trilogy
Caviar carries much cachet so I couldn’t help a chuckle when reading Nigella Lawson’s thoughts on the matter of how to serve it. In her book, How To Eat, she opines that all that really good caviar needs is well-buttered toast. She suggests Mother’s Pride. Goodness, talk about mixing and matching. Perhaps those who eat caviar regularly have established, as Nigella has, that there is no need for gussying it up. No need for smoked salmon, herrings or sour cream – all of these wonderful ingredients emanating from Eastern Europe where caviar has its roots. For me, savouring caviar is a luxurious treat, not a toast topping, so I put the champagne in the fridge, the vodka in the freezer and set about making blinis. The Petrossian caviar I had been sent to review demanded no less.
Petrossian sells a range of caviars – Ossetra, Daurenki, Baeri Baȉka, Sevruga and Beluga. These can be purchased either as part of the Royal or the Tsar Impérial range. Petrossian, a French company, has been selling the finest caviar since 1920 and have pioneered new ways to mix caviar, including, for example, caviar with tarama, caviar butter (fleur d’Or), and a product called Papierusse which is a thin square sheet of caviar used for making croque-caviar, for topping an omelette or making gourmet sushi.
Caviar being the eggs of the sturgeon, I wondered about sustainability considering that so many of the fish species are overfished and endangered. In fact, Petrossian is the first company to have introduced caviar from farmed Ossetra in 2007. This famous fish, Ossetra (Acipenser Gueldenstaedti) was found in the Caspian Sea bordering Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Daurenki caviar hails from Shanghai and is the product of the union of two types of sturgeon that live in the Amur River that runs along the border between Russia and China. These two fish are the Huso dauricus (a cousin of Beluga Huso huso) and Acipenser schrenki (cousin of the Ossetra Acipenser Gueldenstaedti).
Baeri Baȉka has smaller and darker eggs than the other caviars and is briny in taste. Its eggs are from the Acipenser baeri sturgeon that originated in Siberia. Nowadays the fish are farmed in France, China and Germany but all share the same unique flavour.
Sevruga caviar is also farmed although back in the golden age of wild fishing in the Caspian Sea, reports the Petrossian website, the Acipenser stellatus was the most common sturgeon. The caviar has the quality of melting quickly on the tongue and has a full-bodied flavour reminiscent of the sea. The eggs are very delicate, soft and appear pearl-like.
Beluga has large, pearly-grey eggs and a creamy texture. It has a uniquely long-lasting finish. The eggs derive from the Huso huso sturgeon which is very rare and can grow to 4m in the Caspian Sea which is its natural habitat. Petrossian’s Beluga is raised in the Danube valley.
Petrossian caviar is beautifully presented in colourful boxes inside which are found the small tins. I was the happy recipient of Ossetra Royal and Baȉka Royal. Before getting to taste these delicacies I spent an hour reading up on blini making. I grew up eating blinis made by my grandmother but had never before made them myself. It is one of those recipes I assumed I knew how to make before I researched the matter. I finally decided to follow Nigella’s recipe for, while she may eat her caviar on toast, she also includes a fabulous recipe for blinis should you be so inclined. These are as different to those tiny, bland blinis that one can buy for Christmas canapés as you can imagine. They are easy to make but do require a couple of hours to rise as they contain yeast. I was lucky to have a warm day so was able to leave the batter to bubble away on a sunny bench. When I returned I found a wonderfully bubbly, sticky dough to which I added a stiffly beaten egg white. This made a pile of blinis as light and fluffy as a down pillow, tasty too. You can see the recipe below and I recommend it heartily. I opted for smetana as that is what I ate as a child and it brought back memories that crème fraiche – an alternative – does not. A warm blini, some melted butter poured over (as Nigella suggests), a dollop of smetana and then – the point of it all – the caviar. One is supposed to use a mother of pearl spoon but my cutlery collection does not extend to such items. Nor a bamboo. Spoon. Silver is to be avoided. I have none of those either. Natural materials are preferred as they do not tarnish the flavour of the caviar.
I poured ice-cold shots of vodka which we downed with our blinis and caviar. I tried to conjure up the spirit of my East European ancestors who, for all I know, were more familiar with caviar than I am. The two caviars were similar, of course, but slightly different in texture and the Ossetra was markedly brinier than the Baȉka. The taste is both delicate and distinctive, briny and mellow, and wonderful with a yeasty blini. I cannot vouch for the Mother’s Pride option but it must be acknowledged that most things taste good on buttered toast. I usually go for peanut butter, but caviar anyone? Pass the vodka and pop the cork on the champagne.
A canape to serve with caviar and smetana
- 75 grams buckwheat flour I substituted with strong white flour
- 75 grams strong white flour
- 1 sachet easyblend yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 100 ml milk
- 2 tbsp smetana, creme fraiche, sour cream use the same as you will to top the blinis
- 1 tbsp butter plus extra for frying the blinis
- 1 egg separate
Mix the dry ingredients in a warm bowl. I used a glass bowl which I placed in a larger container filled with warm water.
Pour the milk into a measuring jug. Add two tablespoons of the smetana (or creme fraiche or sour cream), mix well to combine. Add water to make mixture up to 250ml.
Pour the mixture into a small pot and then add the butter and warm so that the butter melts. Set aside until the mixture cools to body temperature. I left it to room temperature.
Now beat the egg yolk into the cooled mixture. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Leave in a warm place for 2 hours or longer.
When you are ready to cook, beat the egg white until stiff (not dry) and fold it in.
Heat a crepe pan and melt some butter and a little oil. When butter is melted, pour off the oil. Add some more butter for each crepe - about two tablespoons of batter for each. Cook at medium heat - I burnt the first one by cooking it on high heat - until bubbles form on top (about two minutes) and then flip over for a minute. Do not press down on the crepes to flatten as this will affect the fluffy texture. Keep warm in oven while you make the rest of the batch.
Serve warm with melted butter, smetana and caviar.