For caviar connoisseurs, no price is too high for a taste of the savoury delicacy – and the increasingly rare treat can cost as much as Dh64,000 per kilogramme.
In medieval Russia caviar was a peasant food but in modern times the sky is the limit for prices, especially for roe of the Beluga fish, which is referred to as sturgeon and is native to the Caspian Sea.
To corner the market in this luxury indulgence, Raffles Dubai has opened a caviar bar at the top floor of the hotel and uses an exclusive partner in French capital Paris to fly in the pickled roe every week.
The top-of-the range Raffles Beluga costs Dh64,000 per kilogramme and is served in 50g tins, bringing the price of a Beluga caviar treat to Dh3,200. Beluga caviar is made from the eggs, or roe, of the Beluga fish, also known as sturgeon. The species is classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union in Switzerland and the scarcity of Beluga has driven prices through the roof.
Raffles Dubai opened in November and has been built in the shape of a pyramid. The China Moon bar is located on level 19 at the apex of the building.
While caviar is enjoyed by a very niche clientele, it still has an important market in the UAE’s top restaurants and hotels.
“The target market is Dubai’s high society, connoisseurs, hotel residents and people who appreciate quality, exceptional service and a great atmosphere,” Christoph Ganster, Raffles Dubai’s Director of Food and Beverage, told Emirates Business.
Raffles Dubai uses the international Raffles supplier and all its caviar is of Iranian origin, from the Caspian Sea. With such a delicacy, the preparation is simple – the caviar is served only with blinis (traditional Russian pancakes) and sour cream.
The staff are trained in the preparation and presentation of caviar. Each order is presented on an ice-carving. All restaurants should ensure metal spoons are not used to serve the roe, as they can add a metallic taste to the delicate flavour of the eggs. “Raffles’ serving spoons are made of mother-of-pearl, however other spoons from natural resources can be used, for example, horn, wood, bone, etc,” said Ganster.
Another important element in the enjoyment of caviar is its storage. According to Ganster, it must be stored in the coolest part of the refrigerator but should never be frozen. The caviar range has a shelf-life of seven to 10 days and once opened it can only be kept for two to three days. The standards should be followed rigorously to ensure it is fresh and tasty, said Ganster.
Christoph Ganster, Director of F&B at Raffles Dubai, outlines the top three types of caviar.
1. Oscietre Caviar “The Oscietre Sturgeon nurtures larger, firmer eggs ranging in colour from grey-brown to golden. It is
appreciated for its taste, sometimes likened to hazelnuts.”
2. Oscietre Gold/Imperial Caviar “A long-time favourite of erstwhile Persia’s ruling elite, Imperial is an exceptional caviar. It is taken from a very rare species of sturgeon, the Oscietre Karaburun. Many gourmets prefer this product to the Oscietre Sturgeon, renowned for its large golden grain and delicate nut like flavour with a hint of spice.”
3. Beluga Caviar “The ultimate luxury in gourmet food, Beluga is known for its exquisite flavour. Its is relished for having large grain and superior texture, varying in colour from light- to dark-steely grey with very fine skin and a creamy smooth taste.”
The eating protocol
The first lesson with handling caviar is to never use a metallic spoon, as it lends the caviar a metallic taste.
Unlike other seafood, which can be garnished, cooked and topped with rich sauces, caviar should be eaten simply to enjoy the flavour. Chefs and connoisseurs alike recommend eating the roe without any kind of garnish.
However, as caviar has a very distinct taste, it is advisable to ease into your first try – you can spread a teaspoon of caviar over some lightly toasted bread or a cracker to lighten the salty taste.
Considering the high price of caviar, it is fortunate that it is eaten only in small amounts. When offered caviar, help yourself to a small portion. It is best to keep the servings limited to one-teaspoon size to be both polite and to savour the taste of the food.
It is traditional to serve caviar with blinis. You can also add cream or lemon. There are many schools of thought about the best way to serve caviar, and whether to add garnishes and side dishes.
The hard decisions are left to each connoisseur and the best way to decide is to try a few options. You can add a tiny dollop of the cream on top of the caviar. A small squeeze of lemon to can be tried to enhance roe’s flavour.
Caviar can also be used as an ingredient in other dishes, but do not use Beluga. Instead, choose inexpensive caviar such as capelin or whitefish caviar so you can incorporate the eggs into fish dishes or use the caviar as an elegant garnish to dishes such as steak.