Noir Posh Nosh 

The world's most expensive food

"'Twas caviary to the general." To the general public, that is, as Shakespeare wrote about the royal treat not savored by the masses. From the Persian word, "Khag-avar," meaning "the roe-generator" and then passed to Turkish as "havyar" and eventually morphed into "caviarie" by the Italians and "caviare" by the French, caviar has made an appearance in the human diet for thousands of years. However, despite its ancient etymology and a lengthy history of palette pleasing throughout the world, caviar is shrouded by a high-class reputation that makes it nearly obsolete from modern-day dining experiences. In recent years, overfishing and pollution have made caviar so cost prohibitive that the rare roe has been elevated beyond the plane of exotic delicacy into an existence where it serves as an icon of social status on par with such things as private yachts and Bentley automobiles.

Historically, Russian and Iranian caviar harvested from the Caspian Sea has been regarded as the world's best. Though not considered to be of the highest quality, American caviar does have a formidable reputation and after the industry's near demise several decades ago, American caviar is regaining popularity. In the 19th century, the United States produced 90 percent of the caviar eaten globally and in the early 20th century, caviar was the heart of one of history's most interesting culinary dupes, as it was harvested and shipped to Europe to be repackaged with Russian labels and then imported to the United States as fine Russian caviar. American caviar production was so prolific in the 19th century that bars served it free or unlimited to patrons to boost drink sales.

But, alas, the time of gratis and free-flowing roe has long since passed into the days of yore. Today caviar is worth its weight in white gold as American caviar sells for $4 to $16 per ounce and Beluga from the Caspian sells at nearly $40 per ounce. Considering a connoisseur will struggle to limit himself to two ounces of roe in one sitting (eating more than two ounces is considered poor manners), it's clear to see the reason that caviar does not make the starters list on many Boise menus.

Caviar comes from a variety of fish but is most commonly harvested from various species of sturgeon. It is graded 1, 2 or pressed, based on the uniformity of the grain and the grain's size, color, fragrance, flavor, gleam, firmness and vulnerability of the skin. A tin of caviar should never be opened until you are ready to eat it. An unopened can of pasteurized caviar has a shelf life of approximately six months but fresh caviar should be kept in the refrigerator and will only last about three weeks. Caviar should never be frozen. Any excess caviar can be stored briefly if plastic wrap is pressed onto the surface, placed in the fridge and then turned over each day. Refrigeration should be at 28-32 degrees Fahrenheit and any leftovers once the tin has been opened should be eaten within three days.

Serving a delicacy like caviar requires a delicate touch. Remove caviar from the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before serving and present it in the tin directly over ice. Never use metal to serve caviar, as it will change the taste of the roe. Instead, use special caviar spoons made from mother of pearl, bone or tortoise shell. Though recipes using caviar as a garnish are common, the most popular way to eat caviar is atop points (lightly buttered and toasted bread) with sieved hard-boiled egg whites (the yolks should be sieved and served as a separate garnish), minced red onions, finely chopped chives and crème fraiche as accompaniments.

For those who can afford the rarity, finding caviar for sale in the Treasure Valley may prove more difficult than it would in a larger metropolis. To find good quality caviar, the most convenient method of purchase is via the Internet. Visit online sites such as www.finecaviar.com or www.gourmetfoodstore.com.

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