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Robert Test’s favorite way of eating caviar is in scrambled eggs — an extravagant luxury, but a good choice if you have leftovers after the holidays. But if you eat caviar as an appetizer, Test recommends against loading it up with bits of onion or egg: “They hide the flavor of the caviar.” Plain-tasting crackers or blinis — small Russian pancakes — go well with caviar, along with a dab of cream cheese, Test says. Fern Street Gourmet recommends crème fraîche or even a high-quality plain yogurt to go along with caviar. Some other caviar tips and facts: • If you see caviar sold in a glass container, Test says, that means it’s pasteurized for longer shelf life. Some say pasteurization harms the flavor, but Test says the change is subtle. In the tins, the caviar is vacuum-sealed but not pasteurized. • Speaking of shelf life, Test says that unopened and refrigerated, a tin of caviar lasts for months. Once opened, it will last “a week or so.” • Borax, an alkaline compound used as a cleaning agent (as in Twenty Mule Team Borax), is still used in some parts of the world as a caviar preservative, and some traditionalists say it is part of caviar’s unique flavor. But borax is banned as a food additive in the United States, so we don’t have to worry about ingesting it. • Sturgeon and their roe have gone in and out of favor over the centuries and were not always a luxury item. In the 1850s, caviar from Hudson River sturgeon was so plentiful it sold for a penny a pound and was served free in bars to encourage beer sales. • As it comes out of the fish, sturgeon roe is connected by membranes and is inedible. It must be washed, filtered, and salted before it has any of the flavor caviar is known for. Russian master salt blenders instinctively judge how much and what type of salt to add. • Beluga, osetra, and sevruga caviar come from the three main species of sturgeon fished for that purpose, but there are 27 species of fresh- and salt-water sturgeon, many of them endangered. Sturgeon, with their broad snouts and bony exteriors, have been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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