Friday, March 6, 2015

Taste & Savor: A caviar primer with Petrossian

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 4:53 PM

click to enlarge BRYCE CRAWFORD
  • Bryce Crawford

As a part of the Broadmoor's Taste & Savor weekend — the replacement for a decade of Salute to Escoffier — the hotel hosted Gwen Baird with Petrossian, a luxury brand with restaurants and retail outlets in places like Paris, New York City and Las Vegas. She offered a tasting of five different kinds of caviar — a word that always references salt-cured roe specifically from the sturgeon fish — as well as a basic breakdown of the delicacy as it sits these days.

Before that, though, she described the process of harvesting.

"When you harvest the eggs from the female sturgeon, at that point it's roe, it's just eggs from the fish," Baird says. "But you clean the caviar, you pass it through a sieve, clean all the membranes and everything out of it, add salt to it, and at that point is when it becomes caviar. And at that point, it's relatively flavorless — there's not a lot going on when you add the salt. ... It takes time to mature and for the flavors to be enhanced. So, we add the salt to it, [and] put it away in our vault [for three to 12 months] to age the caviar."

Most people are probably familiar with caviar from three species indigenous to the Caspian Sea, which borders Russia and Iran: beluga, ossetra and sevruga.

"However, those species of sturgeon have been so irresponsibly handled that now there is no wild caviar from the Caspian Sea," says Baird. "So, people ask me all the time, 'So, you sell Russian caviar?' No, not anymore. Because of overfishing and really more the black market. ... By many accounts, the black market trade over there accounted for 80 to 90 percent of the caviar that found its way to dining room tables. ...

"And so now, here we are today, no wild caviar from the Caspian Sea, everything is farmed and sustainable." There's still no beluga caviar to be had, she notes, even in a farm environment, because it takes 18 years for that fish to even start to produce eggs.

So, now Petrossian buys caviar from custom operations in Italy, China, Bulgaria, Israel and a farm in California, from which they purchase over 14 tons of eggs from Acipenser transmontanus. At $94 for 1.06 ounces, it's one of the company's cheaper caviars. Baird says farmed sturgeon usually grow to between 200 and 400 pounds, with egg yield equalling roughly 10 percent of body weight. That means a fish weighing on the low end of the spectrum, producing the company's cheapest caviar, is worth about $30,000.

For a read on whether Petrossian is worth the money or not, I reached out to noted Russophile and Eater critic Ryan Sutton, who also used to write food criticism for Bloomberg News. "I try not to rank on 'store/brand' but rather on species," he wrote back. "And the nice thing about Petrossian is they carry a big variety!"

In that regard, my favorite was Petrossian's Tsar Imperial Shassetra from Acipenser schrencki, a comparably medium expense at $146 per ounce, but a really intense experience. Popping the dark green beads on the roof of my mouth, yielding a deliciously salty fish oil, I found the provided description perfectly accurate: "briny, with hints of dried fruit and toasted grains." It was much more complex than some of the others, though all were great, and not a room-wide favorite, but very impressive.

Noted mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim was also in attendance, and said the flavors would be perfectly paired with a Polish potato vodka like Chopin.

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