Recently while reading about the production of the 'Titanic', one of the best block buster movies we ever had, I came to know that in order to make the scenes more realistic in the movie, James Cameroon, the director and producer decided to serve original Beluga Caviar to actors which costs about $5000 a pound or more , while filming the dining scenes. And the actors and others there had a cushy time because of that! And my attention drifted from Titanic to Caviar..
I am born and brought up in a coastal town. And all sorts of fish- sea water and fresh water- including crab, shrimp, oysters, squid and lobsters which are delicacies elsewhere are very much part of our day to day culinary diet. Even these days lady fish mongers supply fresh catch home delivered on a daily basis, which is a rarity in any other part of India or even the world. While such a situation exists from one end to the other in all coastal towns and villages in my own state Kerala, which has a long Arabian Sea coast in addition to 44 perennial rivers and backwaters, it is not typical of the rest of India.
But two types of fishes which are very famous in the western culinary world are not caught or available here at all. One is sturgeon and the other is Salmon, although there are few exclusive outlets where they bring imported salmon today. The majority of Indians also may not be aware of world caviar of Sturgeon fishes to this day. I too started tasting both only after I landed up in Qatar,37 years back. There also it is imported but available in selective supermarkets or restaurants. Here I am writing about the caviar, about which most of us may not be aware but should be...
On trail of the unusual history of Caviar...
Researchers think that Sturgeon fish had evolved about 200-250 million years back, putting it alongside dinosaurs at a time when the land began breaking into continents. Anyway the scientific world unanimously think that this fish is one of the oldest on earth! Caviar- eggs of the fish Sturgeon is mentioned as old as Aristotle or Herodotus as back as 4th century BC! But it was the Persians who started consuming the caviar of the Caspian Sea but enjoyed by the people as diverse as Byzantines, The Greeks, the Egyptians etc. Possibly the word caviar is derived from the Persian word 'khavyar' which means fish roe. Eating caviar raw was caught up later with fishermen and peasants of Russia as the food of common man and then to Europe.
In Christianity there is a Saint Amalberga of Tense in the Catholic as well as Easter Orthodox churches in the 7th century, whose coat of Arms has a Sturgeon fish! Towards the end of the twelfth century, King Edward II of England even declared Sturgeon to be the Royal fish, meaning all Sturgeon belonged to him personally. Interestingly this right is still believed to be held by Queen Elizabeth II!!In 1280 Russian Orthodox church had declared that Caviar as a food could be consumed during religious fasts. In 1556 Ivan the terrible demanded annual tribute paid in Caviar delivered to Moscow after he conquered region of Khanate of Astrakhan, a region north of Caspian Sea! It was the Russian Tsars who raised the caviar to the world of luxury...as costly to be known as black gold of Russia!! Caviar is also considered to be a natural Viagra.
The Beluga Sturgeon whose scientific name is Huso Huso is mostly seen in Caspian sea but also in Black, Adriatic and Azov seas. Beluga is considered to be the most expensive of all the 27 species of Sturgeon caviar followed by Osetra from the Danube Sturgeon. It has a life span up to 118 years and can be as long as 11-22 feet. They do not reach sexual maturity till 15 years old for males and around 20 years for females.
Like Salmon, Beluga Sturgeon spend most of the time in the ocean but travels into rivers to spawn. But unlike Salmon , they do not die after spawning. Beluga is classified as critically endangered.
Episode of 1873..
Fully aware of the expensive Caviar in Europe , Henry Schacht made a revolution in the caviar industry who made it popular by farming in the US. He was a German immigrant who commenced farming Sturgeon in Delaware river basin near Philadelphia in US. It was a success. Then to out beat the supremacy of the Russians over Caviar in international market, Schacht made it good and popular in US by massive farming. The prices came down drastically. At a given time in US, serving Caviar was sold as less as a nickel! Schacht decided to take Russia by storm by exports. But the plan seems to have backfired. Russians used to export back the same cheap US made caviar in Russian containers labelling it as black gold of Russian Beluga at exorbitant prices to US!!
However since 2005 US has banned all imports of Caspian Sea Beluga caviar in order to protect this species facing extinction. Now by law in US, caviar must be farmed and as such caviar as marked as 'wild' on many containers could be fake.
Cruelty free caviar...Angela Kohler method..
It was the work of Angela Kohler, a marine biologist who perfected the art of extracting eggs of living but farmed Sturgeon fish and patented it in 2006. First the fish is given an ultrasound test to see the readiness of the eggs followed by giving an injection to fish that induces labour after which few days later the eggs are effectively birthed out. Now many companies world wide use the Angela method successfully.
And little bit of statistics...
Among all the countries of the world, France has the highest consumption of Caviar followed by Germany and Spain. And who leads in supply of Caviar to the European Union? It is China again!!
My attempts to acquire a taste for Caviar had failed miserably whenever I tried. Whether it is because of the wrong way of use or wrong brand of selection I don't know. Fish I like very much but anything raw is not my taste I admit, since I have failed in the tastes of Japanese Shushi as well!