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[Guest Ed: Our apologies for the delayed post today - I assure you it was through no fault of Rob, today's guest blogger who is here with his first-ever entry, and who responsibly submitted back on Friday! Let's all give him a warm welcome!]
My fondness for caviar began at an early age. It was often served as a hors d’oeuvre at dinner parties in my house, and although I wasn’t a keenly adventurous eater as a child, I was pretty much forced to try things at least once. It was usually with great repugnance that a new culinary experience found its way into my mouth, but in that first apprehensive bite of caviar, I discovered that the crunchy texture of the tiny roe was similar to one of my favourite foods: Pop Rocks! Okay, in hindsight maybe a bit of a stretch, but when you’re a kid whose parents make you eat things like frog’s legs, escargot, liver (and other assorted organs), and chocolate covered insects, when a nice bowl of mac and cheese would really just hit the spot, you tend to grasp for some remote semblance of familiarity.
But things have changed drastically since I was a kid. True caviar comes from the roe of four species of sturgeon: the Beluga (no relation to the whale), Sterlet, Osetra, and Sevruga. Due to years of over-fishing in the Caspian Sea, all of these fish are endangered, especially the most prized Beluga, which is considered to be critically endangered. According to caviar-guide.com, the United Nations has placed a capture ban on sturgeon since 2006.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to caviar that are both delicious, and sustainable. Over the years, I have enjoyed the roe from lumpfish, salmon, smelt, flying fish, trout, and carp. The lumpfish roe is considered by many to be the closest in texture and flavour to sturgeon roe, but my favourite alternative is salmon roe, also called Ikura in sushi bars, which is borrowed from the Russian word “ikra”, meaning caviar. As a kid, we used to use it as bait when fishing and I never once thought that I might want to eat it myself. Ikura is most commonly served nigri-style, on top of rice and wrapped in nori (seaweed), but can also be enjoyed in other foods like pasta, and omelettes. It is rich in flavour, and is a softer “pop” than many of the other types of roe. Occasionally I treat myself to another Japanese creation called “Tobiko with egg”, which is a much smaller sized roe from flying fish, served nigri-style, with a raw quail egg served on top. So rich, crunchy, and delicious!
While I am still not completely sold on eating chocolate covered insects, I am sure glad my parents introduced me to caviar, and fortunately there are options available for enjoying it responsibly.