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Archive for 2017

RECIPE: Penuche, A Brown Sugar Confection Like Fudge

Penuche
[1] Penuche, an old-fashioned brown sugar treat. Here’s the recipe from Endlessly Inspired.

Nut Free Penuche
[2] Nut-free penuche. Here’s the recipe from Fearless Fresh.

Chocolate Sea Salt Penuche
[3] What could make it better? Some chocolate and sea salt. Here’s the recipe from Rook No.17.

Piloncillo

[4] Piloncillo, a cone of panocha. Here’s more about it from Sweet Potato Chronicles.

 

July 22nd is National Penuche Day. Penuche (pen NOO chee) is often called brown-sugar fudge, but it’s actually a brother or sister.

While it follows the same preparation method, what makes it different is the use of brown sugar rather instead of white, and plain milk instead of cream. (The other ingredients common to both are butter and vanilla).

For both penuche and fudge:

  • A fat-sugar solution is heated to the soft ball stage, 236°F.
  • The solution is set aside to cool to lukewarm, about 110°F.
  • Flavorings are added and the solution is beaten until thick. Mix-ins (nuts, M&Ms, etc.) are added.
  • The mixture is poured into a pan, allowed to cool until semi-hard, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  •  
    Using milk instead of cream gives the confection a lighter body. Over time, some cooks substituted evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk in their preparation.

    In recent years, a version with maple syrup has surfaced in New England. With the popularity of salted caramels, versions have appeared topped with a layer of chocolate fudge and sea salt (a great idea, by the way).

    Penuche has a tannish color, a result of the caramelization. Caramelization also engenders a more complex sugar flavor, with notes of butterscotch or caramel.

    You may encounter penuche with different spellings: panocha, penocha, penochi, panucci, pinuche and penuchi, among others.

    In the Southern United States, it is called creamy praline fudge, and brown sugar fudge candy.

  • Penuche is very similar to a Québec confection called sucre à la crème (cream sugar), a holiday season tradition.
  • A cousin is the southern praline, which is made by boiling brown sugar, butter and cream and cooked to a soft-ball stage like penuche, but filled with pecans and spooned onto wax paper to form patties.
  • An ancestor is Scottish tablet.
  • An adaption is penuche frosting, a brown sugar boiled icing flavor. It is popular with spice cakes and versions with prunes and other dried fruits (photo #5).
  •  
    Ready to make some penuche?
     
     
    RECIPE: CLASSIC PENUCHE

    Nuts add another flavor dimension, and can be larger pieces or chopped to your desired consistency.

    You may note that some recipes add corn syrup to prevent crystallization. But if you’re planning to scarf these within a few days, it’s not an issue.

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter plus more to grease the pan
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (substitute walnuts)
  • Candy thermometer
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LIGHTLY BUTTER an 8×8-inch pan and set aside.

    2. COMBINE the sugar and milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, let the temperature rise to the soft-ball stage, 236°F.

    3. REMOVE the pan from heat. Add butter but do not stir. Set aside to cool to lukewarm, 110°F.

    4. ADD the vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth, thick and creamy. Add the nuts and pour into the prepared pan. When set, cut into squares.

    Variation

    For comparison, here’s a recipe for penuche made with condensed milk.

     

    PENUCHE HISTORY

    While brown sugar-based fudge existed previously, penuche appears to have originated in New England. Brown sugar, light or dark, provides a hint of molasses that yields a spicier, richer flavor than regular white sugar.

    The difference between a lighter and darker tan color is light versus dark brown sugar. A dark brown sugar recipe has more of a molasses taste.

    While the origin of penuche isn’t known for certain, it looks like a descendant of a Scottishconfection called tablet.

    We’ve pieced together some background.

  • Some sources claim the idea for penuche fudge originated in 1924, made by or for a Boston Bruins player named Mark Penuche. However, we could find no record of a Mark Penuche online [source].
  • Penuche is a Mexican Spanish word for raw sugar. According to MexGrocer.com, panela or penuche, raw brown sugar, can be purchased in panocha (chunks) or piloncillo (a tall cone shape—photo #4), and is “a delicious ingredient to prepare Mexican desserts.”
  • Another historical link is to Scottish tablet, a fudge-like treat with a caramel flavor, made from boiling butter, condensed milk and sugar. Boiled sweets are a Scotch tradition dating to the 1600s when sugar was first imported from the West Indies.
  • Scottish tablet was first mentioned in a household account book in the 18th century owned by Lady Grisell Baillie and it’s caramel buttery taste is still loved above all other confections in Scotland, to this day [source]. Here’s a recipe for Scottish tablet.
     
    Wherever the origin of penuche may lie, it became a New England favorite in the 1920s, and subsequently migrated to fudge counters across the country.

    Now that you have the recipe, try some!
     
     
    FOOD TRIVIA: FUDGE

    Fudge was an accident, the result of an attempt to make caramels. And what a happy accident!

    Here’s the history of fudge.

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    Penuche Frosting
    [5] Brown sugar frosting, popular with spice cakes, is called penuche frosting. Here’s the recipe from Cafe Johnsonia.

    Scottish Tablet

    [6] Scottish tablet seems to be the closest relative to penche. Here’s the recipe from London Eats.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: BLT Variations

    Crab Salad BLT
    [1] This BLT has a layer of spicy crab salad. Here’s the recipe from Olive Magazine.

    Grilled Pineapple BLT
    [2] Grill pineapple and add siracha mayo. Here’s the recipe from Half Baked Harvest.

    Lobster BLT
    [3] A lobster club on a toasted roll. Here’s the recipe from Fish The Dish.

    Fried Green Tomato BLT
    [4] Fried green tomato BLT with arugula. Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine.

    Fried Egg BLT

    5] Add a fried egg: It’s trending! Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine.

     

    The BLT is one of America’s favorite sandwiches. It has engendered many variations, from the BLAT with avocado, to the BLAST with avocado and smoked salmon.

    The sandwich has its own month of celebration—April is National BLT Month—and a single-day celebration, July 22nd, National BLT day.

    Here’s the history of the BLT. It was stripped down from the club sandwich, which includes chicken or turkey.

    So the taxonomy gets tricky: a chicken BLT is a club sandwich; a lobster BLT is a lobster club sandwich, etc. Is a California BLT (with avocado) actually an avocado club sandwich?

    Don’t muddle: just eat!

     
    WAYS TO VARY YOUR BLT

    While the classic BLT is simple perfection, think of different ways you might enjoy it. Vary the basic ingredients and you can enjoy a different BLT every day of the yar!
     
    Vary The Bacon

  • Bacon jam (buy or make)
  • Black pepper bacon (buy or make from plain bacon)
  • Maple bacon (brush with maple syrup while cooking)
  • Pancetta, guanciale or other type of bacon
  • Pork belly
  •  
    Vary The Lettuce

    We love crunchy romaine, but also:

  • Arugula
  • Bibb or butter lettuce
  • Iceberg (slice it from the head)
  • Red cabbage* (slice it from the head)
  • Watercress
  •  
    …and garnish with some alfalfa sprouts or microgreens.
    ________________

    *Cabbage is not a lettuce, but it provides the crunch of iceberg with more flavor and—if red cabbage—color.
    ________________

    Vary The Tomato

  • Diced tomatoes or chunky fresh salsa
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Marinated cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes
  • Multicolor heirloom tomatoes
  • Tomato tapenade
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    Vary The Mayonnaise

  • Baconaise
  • Dijon mayo
  • Garlic mayo (aïoli)
  • Herb mayo with dried or fresh herbs
  • Honey mayo
  • Pesto mayo
  • Russian/Thousand Island dressing
  • Sriracha mayo
  • Other flavors: curry, harissa, etc.
  •  
    Vary The Bread

    Beyond the white toast, consider:

  • Baguette
  • Brioche
  • Ciabatta
  • Brioche
  • Croissant
  • French toast
  • Multigrain
  • Pita
  • Sourdough
  • Walnut or olive bread
  • Wrap
  •  
    Vary The Format

  • BLT appetizer bites (recipe below)
  • BLT crostata (rustic tart)
  • BLT pasta or pizza
  • BLT salad
  • BLT spring rolls
  • BLT Tea sandwiches
  • BLT Skewers
  •  
    Did we leave anything out?

     
    Add Another Element

  • Avocado/guacamole
  • Caramelized onion, chives, grilled/roasted onion or scallion
  • Cheese (our favorites: crumbled blue, horseradish cheddar, pepperjack, sliced brie or gruyère)
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fried or sliced egg
  • Grilled pineapple, salmon, shishito peppers, other grilled vegetables
  • Shellfish (crab, lobster, sautéed or fried softshell crab, shrimp)
  • Sliced radish
  •  
    Make A Fusion

  • BLT burger
  • BLT steak sandwich
  • BLT wedge salad
  • Buffalo chicken BLT
  • Chicken salad BLT
  • Grilled cheese BLT
  •  

    RECIPE: MINI BLT BITES

    We adapted this recipe from one by Kristen Stevens of The Endless Meal. She made her own chipotle mayo from scratch. Here’s her original sandwich recipe, including the chipotle mayonnaise.

    We happened to have a jar of wasabi mayonnaise from Ojai Cook, which you can also find private labeled at Trader Joe’s.

    Or, you can stir any seasoning you like into plain mayonnaise, from lemon zest to maple syrup. For heat, stir in cayenne, chile powder, chipotle or any hot sauce:

    Start with 1/2 cup mayo and 1 teaspoon dried spice. Blend, let sit so the flavors meld, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. On to the recipe:

    These BLT bites are fun for cocktails or snacks. Prep time is 20 minutes, and you can do part of it the day before.
     
    You can serve these as an hors d’oeuvre with Martinis and other savory drinks, with a beer, as an amuse-bouche†, or as part of a first course of different hors d’oeuvre.

    As with the sandwich, you can change the recipe every time you make it, with different lettuces, different flavors of mayo and croutons made from different types of breads.

    Ingredients For 24 Pieces

  • 24 grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • 24 small pieces of lettuce, such as arugula or baby spinach, microgreens, red leaf lettuce
  • ¼ cup crumbled crisp cooked bacon (about 3 pieces)
  • 24 small pieces of bacon for garnish (we cut grilled bacon into 2 or 3 pieces with a scissors)
  • 24 croutons (buy them or make them*)
  •  
    Preparation

    You can complete steps #1 and #2 a day in advance.

    1. CUT a small slice from the bottoms of the tomatoes so they can stand up.

    2. GENTLY squeeze and roll the tomatoes between your fingers to loosen the pulp. Remove with whatever implement works best for you. We found a strawberry corer to work for us.

    3. ASSEMBLE: Add some mayonnaise to each tomato (we put the mayo in a piping bag and piped it in). Then add the pieces of lettuce and bacon bacon. Top with a crouton.
    ________________
    †Amuse-bouche (pronounced ah-MEEZ boosh) is French for “amusing the mouth.” It is an hors d’oeuvre-size portion plated on a tiny dish, sent as a gift from the chef after the order has been placed, but before the food arrives. It is just one bite: a larger portion would constitute an appetizer. Sophisticated home cooks have taken to serving them at the beginning of dinner. Amuses-bouches tend to be complex in both flavors and garniture Here are the differences among amuse-bouche, appetizer, canapé and hors d’oeuvre.

    †You can use this recipe, but cut the bread into a size that will fit into the tomatoes.

    MORE NON-SANDWICH BLT RECIPES

    Cocktails

  • BLT Bloody Mary with bacon vodka
  • BLT Cocktail
  •  
    Not A Sandwich

  • BLT Gazpacho
  • BLT Guacamole Crostini
  • BLT Pancakes
  • BLT Pasta Salad
  • BLT Slaw
  •  

    BLT Bites
    [6] The original mini BLT cups. We added a crunchy crouton to the center (photo courtesy The Endless Meal.

    Wasabi Lemonaise The Ojai Cook
    [7] We used wasabi mayonnaise instead of chipotle mayo (photo courtesy Ojai Cook).

    Lemonaise Flavors The Ojai Cook
    [8] The different flavors of Lemonnaise (photos #2 and #3 courtesy The Ojai Cook)

    Baconaise

    [9] Baconnaise: It’s vegan and kosher, but it really tastes like bacon (photo courtesy J & D’s Foods).

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Crostini For Breakfast & Lunch

    Burrata Bruschetta
    [1] Tomato and burrata crostini (recipe below—photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    Avocado & Egg Crostini
    [2] Avocado and sliced egg crostini (photo courtesy Safest Choice).

    Crostini Fondue
    [3] Instead of breakfast grilled cheese, make skillet fondue (photo courtesy La Brea Bakery).

    Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini

    [4] Diced strawberries atop goat cheese (photo courtesy Whole Foods Market).

     

    If you like to crunch on toast for breakfast, consider crostini: toast using Italian bread or a rustic loaf (peasant bread), topped with more interesting ingredients—or a combination of them—than American breakfast toast.

    For those who think of crostini only as an accompaniment to a glass of wine break or cocktails, nota bene that it can be the main dish for breakfast or brunch.

    It’s toast with toppings: cheeses, fruits, meats, seafood, spreads, vegetables.

  • Serve it with a side of fruit for breakfast.
  • Serve it with soup or salad for lunch.
  •  
    INGREDIENTS FOR BREAKFAST OR LUNCH CROSTINI

    You can choose sweet or savory…or one of each. Here are some ingredients that work for breakfast and lunch:

  • Cheese group: burrata or mozzarella, feta (crumbled, whipped), sliced cheese, spreadable cheese (Alouette, Boursin, cheddar, goat, ricotta); or mini grilled cheese tartines,
  • Fruit group: avocado (sliced or mashed), berries, citrus, fig, grapes, sliced drupes (stone fruits), watermelon (great with feta and basil),
  • Onion group: caramelized onions, onion relish, scallions, sweet onion.
  • Protein group: bacon, ham or prosciutto; scrambled or sliced eggs; sliced sausage.
  • Spreads: butter, cream cheese, hummus, jam, nut butter.
  • Vegetable group: cucumbers, radishes, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes.
  • Garnishes: chile flakes, fresh herbs (basil is our favorite), granola, honey drizzle, lemon zest, maple syrup, nuts and seeds, olive oil drizzle, salsa.
  •  
    Here’s the difference between crostini and bruschetta.
     
    RECIPE: CROSTINI WITH BURRATA & SLOW-ROASTED TOMATOES

    You can make the tomatoes a day in advance. Then, put the ingredients together in a few minutes.

    Ingredients

  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes (preferably mixed colors)
  • Garlic cloves*
  • Good olive oil
  • Sliced rustic bread (with a good crust)
  • 8-ounce burrata (substitute mozzarella)
  • Fresh basil, torn or roughly chopped
  • Flake salt/coarse† sea salt, to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F. Spread the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

    2. BAKE for 2½ to 3 hours, or until tomatoes just begin to shrivel.

    3. BRUSH the bread slices with oil, and toast or grill until golden brown. Rub with roasted garlic.

    4. DIVIDE the burrata over toasts and top with tomatoes, basil, flaky salt, and another drizzle of olive oil.
     
    __________________
    *Since you’ll be roasting the cloves, you can roast a whole bulb’s worth and use the extra roasted garlic with salads, potatoes, grains, or spreads.

    Coarse salt is a larger-grained sea salt crystal, with grains the size of kosher salt. The grains are crushed to make fine sea salt. Flake salt is naturally evaporated sea salt that forms snowflake- or pyramid-like grains. Examples include those from the Maldon River in England, Anglesey off the island of Wales, New Zealand, and Australia. When used as a garnish, coarse and flake salts provide a crunch. Check out the different types of salt.

    FOOD 101: FRUIT GROUPS

    Because we’re food geeks, we think of foods as part of their parent groups. We love to learn the relationships between plants, and how seemingly unrelated food plants can be close cousins.

    That’s why you’ll often see the Latin taxonomy after the English name; for example, basil (Ocimum, basilicum family Lamiaceae).

    The taxonomy of plants and animals was first developed by the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus and published in 1735 (the zoological component came later).

    The nomenclature comprises seven main “ranks”: kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus, species. You studied it in 7th-grade biology.

    To simplify the fruit category, here’s a chart of the main fruit groups—in English, as opposed to the Latin names.

    Not only can it deepen your understanding of food; it’s a fun game to play as you wheel down the supermarket fruit aisle. Point at apples and say “pome,” point at peaches and say “drupe,” etc.

    Well, it’s our idea of fun.

    Fruit Categories Chart

    Chart courtesy College of William and Mary.
     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Shaved Salad

    Get out your mandoline and make a shaved salad.

    Thinly-shaved foods not only have visual elegance, but enable a better melding of flavors on the fork.

    Serve them as a first course, a salad course after the main course, or a light lunch (for example, plated with cold chicken, roast, seafood).

    Photo #1, from Rolf & Daughters in Nashville, layers slices:

  • Green tomato (substitute red, purple or other heirloom color)
  • Husk cherry/ground cherry* (substitute red or orange grape tomatoes or small tomatillos)
  • Nectarine (substitute other stone fruit)
  • Coppa di testa*, a Tuscan version of head cheese (substitute other meat)
  • ________________

    *The coppa di testa or other block of charcuterie can also be sliced on the mandoline. See more about ground cherries and testa below.
    ________________

    Photo #2 presents a shaved pear salad with beets, blue cheese and fennel.

    You can switch out all the elements—fruits, vegetables, dressings, etc.—to combine your favorite flavors.
     
     
    RECIPE: SHAVED PEAR & VEGETABLE SALAD

    This recipe is from USA Pears, but during prime stone fruit season (July and August), feel free to substitute. The only caveat is that you need to slice a firm fruit.

    Most fruits should be used before they ripen into a softness that can’t be sliced on a mandoline. The texture to aim for is similar to an apple, pineapple or watermelon.

    USA Pears suggests vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, celery, sweet onion, and seasonal ingredients like delicata squash and summer squash.

    Ingredients For The Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons tangerine juice (from one juicy tangerine), or other mandarin
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  •  
    Ingredients For The Salad

  • 1 small red onion, peeled and trimmed
  • 1 fennel bulb (reserve the delicate fronds for garnish)
  • 1 small bunch radishes, bottoms trimmed and about ½ inch of the top left on (leaving a little greenery on makes the radishes easy to hold while slicing on the mandoline)
  • 2 raw beets, peeled and trimmed (use golden or chiogga [candy stripe] beets if you can find them—red beets will bleed on the other vegetables)
  • 2 slightly under-ripe pears, such as Anjou or Concorde
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (substitute feta or goat cheese)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.

    2. PREPARE the salad: Slice all of the vegetables as thinly as possible on a mandoline slicer, transferring them to a large bowl as you go. This can be done several hours in advance; be sure to cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. So the pears don’t brown, just before serving the salad…

    3. THINLY SLICE the pears on the mandoline, leaving the core behind. Add the pears to the bowl with the other vegetables along with about two-thirds of the dressing. Gently toss the ingredients together, sliding apart vegetables that remain stacked together with your fingers.

    4. ARRANGE the salad on a platter, drizzling with more dressing, if desired. Crumble the blue cheese on top and garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.

     
    WHAT ARE GROUND CHERRIES?

    Ground cherries, Physalis pubescens, are not cherries at all. They are members of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes and tomatillos as well as the cape gooseberry (their cousin), chile peppers, eggplants and potatoes.

     

    Shaved Salad
    [1] A shaved salad of summer fruits on top of thinly-sliced charcuterie (photo courtesy Rolf & Daughters | Nashville).

    Shaved Salad
    [2] Shaved pear salad with beets and blue cheese (photo courtesy USA Pears).

    Groundcherry On Bush
    [3] Want to grow your own ground cherries? Here’s how from Rodale Organic Life.

    Dutch Head Cheese
    [4] The Dutch version of head cheese, called preskop (photo Takeaway | Wikipedia).

    Microplane Mandoline

    [5] Handheld mandolines have become popular recently. They take up less room, but require more effort than the traditional models that have a fold-out stand for stability (photo courtesy Microplane).

     
    Like the tomatillo and cape gooseberry, ground cherries grow inside a papery husk.

    Other names include husk tomato, low ground-cherry and hairy ground cherry, strawberry tomato, winter cherry and a variety of others.

    Ground cherries are typically eaten raw, as a snack or in recipes like salads and salsas.

    WHAT IS HEAD CHEESE?

    Head cheese is a cold cut that originated in Europe. Each country has a version of it.

    The most popular version in the U.S. is a variation of the Italian soppressata or coppa di testa (coppa refers to air-cured pork meat).

    It is not a dairy cheese, but got the name because it was made in a rectangular block (terrine). The grocer sliced it the same as a loaf of cheese.

    The meat really does come from the head of a pig or calf (less commonly from a cow or sheep). Artisan versions are often set in aspic.

    Head cheese may be flavored with onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature.

    Peasants used every part of an animal (even the “squeal,” as some oldsters like to joke). Historically, the skulls, which contain natural gelatin, were used to produce aspic.

    The cleaned head of the animal, all meat removed, was simmered to produce stock, a peasant food made since the Middle Ages. When cooled, the stock congeals into aspic.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Affordable Caviar

    Kazunoko Herring Roe
    [1] This golden herring caviar (kazunoko) is not particularly flavorful, but is served with seasonings for the Japanese new year (photo courtesy Just One Cookbook).

    Salmon Roe
    [2] Salmon caviar is much less pricey than sturgeon caviar, but if you want to eat a lot of it, prepare to open your wallet (photo courtesy Petrossian).

    Avruga Herring Caviar

    [3] Avruga, herring “caviar,” is not caviar at all, but made from different ingredients (including herring meat and squid ink) to resemble black caviar (photo courtesy Pescaviar).

     

    July 18th is National Caviar Day. When we looked into our purse, we decided we could not afford the “good stuff”: sturgeon caviar (prices* range from $123 to $349 for the rareat; prices per 30g/1.06 ounce).

    We couldn’t even afford sturgeon’s relatives, hackleback (a.k.a. shovelnose, $76/ounce) and paddlefish caviar ($32/ounce).

    What is caviar? When the term is used by itself, “caviar” refers to unfertilized eggs (roe) harvested from any species of sturgeon.

    Fifty years ago and in the centuries prior, that meant Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga caviar from sturgeon that swam in the Caspian and Black Seas, in Russia and Iran. Caspian caviar was considered the world’s most luxurious and expensive caviar. There was enough stock so that anyone who could afford it could have it—and if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.

    Beginning in the 1990s, the stocks were reduced by shameful poaching, pollution and river dams that cut off the beluga’s spawning grounds. The beluga sturgeon became an endangered species, and the other two were on the critical list.

    Laws were passed in 2001 by The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to halt the caviar trade in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan. It then proposed a ban on exporting Caspian caviar by the Russian states that border the Caspian Sea (i.e., it could be sold to locals, but not exported to Europe, the U.S., or anywhere else (more).

    This spawned an international frenzy on how to replace that fine sturgeon caviar. Farming of other species of sturgeon began all over the world, resulting in access to whomever could afford it (farmed caviar is less expensive than wild, but still $70 an ounce, compared to $200 an ounce for wild sevruga).

    The good news is, there is a lot of local, sustainable caviar produced right here in the United States. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide, your best choice for caviar is produced by U.S. farmed white sturgeon and paddlefish.

    Hence, a brief history of caviar.
     
    THE HISTORY OF CAVIAR

    Caviar was first prepared by the ancient Chinese, from carp roe. The Persians learned the technique from the Chinese, and were the first to use the technique on sturgeon from the Caspian Sea.

    The word “caviar” comes from the Persian khavyar, from khayah, egg. It came into the English language in the 16th century.

    While “Russian caviar” has a global reputation as “the best” (some might vote for the lesser-known Iranian caviar), the Russians themselves do not call any fish roe caviar. They use the Russian word for egg, ikroj (pronounced EEK-ruh with a rolled “r”).

    In Japan, the Russian ikroj was transformed into ikura—the name by which it is ordered at sushi bars the world over.

    In the trade, the eggs of a fish are also called berries, grains and pearls. Once the roe has been salted it becomes caviar.

    However, the rising popularity of other types of fish roe in modern cuisine and the growth of the American hackleback and white sturgeon farming, have caused the definition of “caviar” to broaden.

    Today, the terms caviar and roe are interchangeable for consumers. Basically any fish egg is referred to as caviar; although in the U.S. only sturgeon caviar can be labeled simply “caviar.” Non-sturgeon caviars must be modified with the name of the fish (salmon caviar, whitefish caviar, etc.).

    A number of these more recently popular roes come from fish that are plentiful, like flying fish, trout and whitefish. This means affordable caviar.

     
    Their roe was not mainstream for decades. In many cases they were tiny, colorless, and/or marginally flavorful.

    But faced with the demands of the American palate, which has grown steadily since the rise of California cuisine in the 1980s, producers have rose to the occasion, to present caviar options that were both affordable and sustainable.

    Today there’s a broad choice of attractive and delicious roes. They taste like sturgeon roe as much as a meatball tastes like filet mignon. But most are very palate-worthy, and will expand your horizons.

    How much caviar should you buy? Well, you can get between 8 to 10 (1/2 teaspoon) servings per ounce of caviar. Figure at least 1/2 to 1 ounce of caviar per person.

    While this is a small amount, it’s enough for a tasting of different caviars. Buy what your pocketbook can afford. When we treat ourselves, we can eat a 7-ounce jar of salmon caviar or truffled whitefish roe as a garnish with dinner (yes, the whole jar).

    ________________

    *Prices vary widely, depending on supply and demand, as well as the graded quality. For example, Tsar Nicoulai offers six different grades of American white sturgeon caviar alone, with prices ranging from $40 to $210, and everything in between. The highest-regarded retailers also charge more than other stores and e-tailers. You can find less expensive caviar online, but unless it is from a truly reputable vendor, you may be getting caviar that is old (there is no expiration date on caviar tins) or not what it is purported to be.

    Prices are stated in ounces, although European-based vendors like Petrossian use the European weight, grams. Since 30 grams equals 1.06 ounces, think of it as a wash.

    †Prices are provided for relative comparison. They were obtained from different websites, because we could not find one vendor who offered all or most of the options. Note that the price will also vary based on the amount purchased: A single ounce costs more than an eight-ounce jar or tin.

     

    AFFORDABLE CAVIAR

    If you can’t afford $70 an ounce and up for sturgeon caviar, what are your choices? They’re on this list. We’ve provided Japanese names to reference the types most often found in sushi bars.

  • Avruga, Spanish herring roe. It looks like large, glossy black caviar pearls, but it isn’t caviar at all! Avruga is a roe-free caviar substitute made by a Spanish company, Pescaviar, from herring in Spanish waters. It comprises 40% local Spanish herring plus squid ink, salt, corn starch, lemon juice, citric acid and stabilizers (about $7/ounce; (more).
  • Bottarga is cured, dried fish roe: no longer in the form of caviar, but pressed into a block that can be sliced or grated (and is sold as the whole roe (about $6/ounce) or a grated in a jar (about $9/ounce). It is typically made from the roe of the grey mullet, and is very popular in Italy, for grating over pasta, rice, salads and other dishes (more). Also see mullet.
  • Bowfin caviar comes from a fish in the southern U.S. that is not related to the sturgeon. Its eggs visually resemble sturgeon roe, but taste entirely different (muddy, some call it, and it lives on mud river bottoms). That’s why it’s also called mudfish, swampfish, cypress trout, and by the Cajun name “choupique.” It was considered a trash fish, the flesh used to make fish cakes, until the ban of imported Caspian caviar led to a search for alternatives ($4.75/ounce; more).
  • Capelin roe or smelt roe, called masago at sushi bars (more).
  • Herruga caviar (another brand name is stromluga) is a version of avruga, a product made from herring meat to look like caviar. The herring comes from the North Atlantic and Baltic seas. The color of the beads ranges from dark gray to black, and they have a light smokey character ($5/ounce†).
  • Kazunoko comes from the golden herring, and is available during the holiday season, eaten for the Japanese new year by those hoping for children (gold color symbolizes fertility). Its bright roe sac (the ovary) contains thousands of tiny eggs, which crunch like tobiko. While the roe is not particularly flavorful, it is marinated in a dashi-soy seasoning. its golden beauty makes it a popular New Year’s dish in Japan. The name is made up: kazu means number and ko means child. Here’s more (about $2/ounce).
  • Lumpfish roe from the North Atlantic lumpfish. If your family used Romanoff caviar as as garnish back in the day, you’ve had it. The pale, crunchy eggs are dyed black, red or golden, but the food coloring runs. It is used mostly as a garnish on hors d’oeuvre (about $4/ounce; more).
  • Mentaiko and tarako are roe of the Alaskan cod or pollock. Mentaiko is spiced with powdered red pepper, which makes it pink to dark red in color. Tarako is not spiced, but is salted instead.
  • Mullet roe (karasumi in Japanese) is the Japanese equivalent of Italian bottarga. The the roe sac of the mullet is cured and vacuum packed. The whole roe sac is sold, to be sliced for hors d’oeuvre served with saké, sliced on top of rice, or grated as a garnish. It’s considered a delicacy, .
  • Pollock roe, called tarako in Japanese. Not widely available in the U.S., we couldn’t even find it on Amazon!
  • Salmon caviar, called ikura at sushi bars, is popular in the U.S. as a colorful, tasty garnish. As with any product, prices and quality vary (and start at about $7 to $10/ounce). The imported roe from the keta salmon of Russia has larger eggs, which are considered more desirable.
  • Smelt roe, called masago in Japanese, looks like the pricer, higher-quality flying fish roe (tobiko); but is crunchy rather than flavorful like tobiko. California rolls are often coated with a splash of masago; while the gunkan maki are filled with tobiko. You can use a few beads of garnish to add color to canapés (about $2/ounce).
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    Affordable Caviar
    [4] No sturgeon need apply for this caviar sampler from Firebird in New York City.

    Clear Roe
    [5] Clear roe from different species of fish are colored and flavored into tasty garnishes (photo courtesy Nutra Ingredients).

    Affordable Caviar

    [6] The results: colored and flavored roe like these whitefish caviars (photo courtesy Tsar Nicoulai).

  • Tarama, the tiny roe of carp, cod or mullet (more). Pale orange in color, they are most often found blended into taramosalata but also available in their original form from Krinos (an 8-ounce jar is about $5.00). Tarama means fish roe in Greek and Turkish.
  • Tobiko, roe from the Icelandic flying fish (a superior product to the similar-looking masago—more). It is typically dyed orange, but can be found in red, green (with wasabi flavor) and black (about $2/ounce).
  • Trout roe, pale yellow in color, has become a popular garnish, especially when colored red-orange to resemble the pricier salmon roe, which it resembles (about $6/ounce).
  • Whitefish roe, also pale, has been colored and flavored into delights such as beet (red), ginger (yellow), mango (orange), truffle (brown), wasabi (green), even black (about $4/ounce).
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    CAVIAR TIPS

    Take care of the eggs. Caviar is very fragile and must be handled with care to keep the eggs from bursting.

    Caviar hates metal. Never touch a metal utensil of any kind to caviar: Metal oxidizes the roe and will make it taste metallic. Use a caviar spoon made of bone, tortoise shell, or mother of pearl. A plastic spoon works, too.

    Keep it cold. Caviar that is not shelf-stable (i.e., pasteurized) should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator (between 28 to 32°F.) Don’t freeze it! The caviar can last 15 to 20 days, unopened, in the fridge. Don’t open the caviar jar or tin until it’s ready to serve.

    Cover and refrigerate any leftovers promptly and use within a day or two. If caviar is left in the tin, the surface should be smoothed and a sheet of plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface. Turn the tin over each day so the oil reaches all of the eggs.

    More caviar tips.

     
    FIND MUCH MORE ABOUT CAVIAR IN OUR CAVIAR GLOSSARY

      

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