A Harte Appetite: Caviar

Jul 29, 2019

While he was Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great had his ambassador deliver a gift of fine caviar to Louis XV, King of France.  When, with great ceremony, the young monarch tasted his first mouthful of the precious stuff, he became nauseated and promptly spit it out on the carpet at Versailles.

These days even a royal might think twice about such unmannerly behavior, for caviar is, as Inga Saffron notes in her detailed history of those fabulous fish eggs, “the world’s most coveted delicacy.”

Thus, as Rosso and Lukins, founders of Manhattan’s celebrated Silver Palate, imply in one of their equally celebrated cookbooks:  leftover caviar is practically an oxymoron.  You can never have enough, especially on those occasions they identify as times “when the movers and shakers must be dazzled, when laurels have been bestowed, when transitions must be acknowledged and anniversaries celebrated.”  In short, when it’s time to pull out all the stops.

No wonder, then, as James Beard remarked, “The roe of the Russian mother sturgeon has probably been present at more important international affairs than have all the Russian dignitaries of history combined.

Humans have been eating fish roe or eggs since the beginning of time.  Even wild animals, when devouring a fresh-caught fish, eat the eggs first.  But for centuries such fare was more likely to find its way to a pig’s trough than a potentate’s table.

Not any more, of course. And not any more is the best caviar necessarily from Russia.  Connoisseurs have discovered that many Midwestern river fish, not least of which is the Missouri paddlefish, yield caviar worthy even of Chicago’s renowned Charlie Trotter’s.  Talk about incredible, edible eggs!


Angel Hair Pasta with Caviar

This recipe, adapted from Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa, is, like most of her creations—simple and sumptuous.  It makes an elegant first or main course on New Year’s Eve.

1 pound angel hair pasta
2 sticks butter
2 lemons
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
5 ounces black caviar

Cook pasta until al dente.  Meanwhile, melt butter and zest and juice lemons.  Drain pasta, leaving a small amount of the water, and toss with butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.  Mound pasta on plates and top each serving with a generous dollop of caviar.