If you love fine dining, then no doubt you have had caviar more than once. The coveted, tiny, black sturgeon fish eggs are synonymous with sophistication and luxury.
So it is surprising to learn that – unbeknown to diners – the caviar served at upscale brunches and five-star restaurants often does not taste how it should.
“Throughout the UAE, from some of our most renowned customers we learnt that, prior to working with us, nearly 80 per cent of their caviar was mishandled, which ultimately spoiled the product and the experience for their guests,” says Nicholas Narsavidze, a partner at AmStur caviar in the United States, which launched its brand in the UAE in 2015.
“As with many fine foods, caviar is very sensitive to temperature fluctuation as well as extended exposure to air.”
Narsavidze says caviar should be stored between minus 2°C and 2°C.
“When not eating caviar, the tin should be completely closed so as to prevent unnecessary exposure to air,” he adds. “Air can dry the caviar and the pearls will become visibly smaller and harder if left in open-air for an extended period of time.”
Because it is such a delicate product, it is easy to understand how caviar can be ruined and put people off. If you have eaten caviar that was mishandled, you have probably decided you simply don’t like this delicacy and might be reluctant to try it again. Don’t give up, says Narsavidze.
“Good-quality caviar should never taste muddy, overly fishy or metallic,” he says.
“I think many people who have tasted caviar before have had a bad experience and therefore conclude that they must be connoisseurs in order to appreciate it. Anyone can enjoy caviar. Good caviar is very pleasant and tasty, with a smooth, buttery flavour, with top notes of fruits and/or nuts.”
It is this passion for educating consumers and chefs alike that has driven Narsavidze to swift success. He launched AmStur (short for American Sturgeon) with his brothers three years ago in Sacramento, California.
Their caviar comes from white sturgeon, which is indigenous only to the Pacific Northwest and the third largest of the 27 species of sturgeon. AmStur’s sturgeon are raised in a controlled environment in native water.
“The quality of the caviar depends greatly on the way the fish was raised, on the availability of fresh water at the farm, the quality of the feed, the time of the harvest, and the way the caviar is cured,” says Narsavidze.
“We produce native-raised species, which means the fish is in its native habitat. A lot of other suppliers don’t have that. It absolutely changes the taste.”
The company also recently launched a line of organic caviar, the only one of its kind available in the UAE. “It’s the only organic-certified caviar in the world from native-raised sturgeon,” says Narsavidze. “Ours is the only one that’s actually raised in its natural habitat.”
You can find AmStur caviar in a growing number of restaurants and hotels around the country, including the Burj Al Arab, Atlantis, The Palm, Emirates Palace, Four Seasons and more.
You can also get it delivered to your home. The company recently introduced a “caviar chauffeur” service that offers consumers the option of having a single tin of caviar (prices start at Dh220 for a 30g tin) – or as many as they want – delivered to their doorstep by a caviar expert.
Upon arrival, the expert (which is sometimes Narsavidze himself) will explain how best to store and handle the product.
“We want the opportunity for people to be educated about the product,” Narsavidze says. “It’s not just, ‘Here you go, have a good day.’ We show you how to store it and how to keep it fresh.”
Once you have learnt how to handle caviar, the next step to master is how to eat it to get maximum enjoyment. It is traditional to use a mother-of-pearl spoon to pile a handful of eggs on the base of your thumb and deliver it straight to your mouth.
Do not use metal utensils as they create a reaction that can leave an undesirable metallic taste. You can also serve it on plain blinis (thin pancakes), oysters or other compatible foods.
“I’m a little bit crazy about this stuff,” Narsavidze says. “I eat it straight. I think if you’re trying to appreciate caviar for caviar, you do it straight. If you have to put it on something, choose blinis or black-rye bread with a thin layer of butter and piles of caviar on top. It’s an excellent appetiser, condiment or even a simple course on its own. Ultimately it depends on what you are in the mood for.”
•For details visit www.amstur.com