Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and for many that means enjoying caviar with someone special. We thought we’d share some ideas to stimulate those who want to do something traditional – and unique – to help celebrate.
Interestingly, it isn’t easy to define what a “flight” of food – be it caviar, cheese, or wine and now even beers – technically “is” outside of a selection of multiple items of commonality . But one could assume that the word itself was selected for a more root meaning – a progression, like a “flight” of stairs. “Top Flight” suggests that the final selection would be the superior tasting selection. We reached out to our friend, the noted cookbook author James Peterson, for his insight: “A flight should increase in complexity and/or intensity of flavor. Or, put simply, save the best for last.” Jim’s view certainly supports this approach. Ultimately, caviar flights can be created based on preferences, availability, budget and creativity.
A “flight” best succeeds in its appeal when there is some continuity of theme – and when the particular flavors are selected to compliment another food or beverage. Caviar Flights are traditional to the days when wild caviars such as Beluga were plentiful and inexpensive, and chefs and aficionados alike could compose a selection of multiple varieties to tantalize and showcase their different flavors and colors. We see them less and less on most menus these days, with caviar presented more often as an a la carte supplemental offering, or incorporated as a component or garnish with an actual dish.
This should not restrain the “epicurious” from creating a caviar flight – the very point is to enjoy and compare different tastes. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful when crafting your selections:
1. Create a Grouping
While certainly any caviar selections are welcome to most aficionados (and your budget may dictate your selections), it might be a more interesting experience to create a commonality among the caviars in your flight. Consider these options:
- Different Selections of the Same Species: for example Osetra Caviar. Different harvesters produce unique flavors, even when the species is the same. Try a combination. Or instead of caviars (eggs produced by a sturgeon) put together a selection of roes – Spoonbill, Hackleback, Salmon, Golden Whitefish, etc.
- By Country of Origin: create a collection of imported caviars, or select roes and caviars harvested domestically here in the U.S.
- By Color: build a visual effect by choosing caviars and roes of different colors, from the vibrant orange-red of salmon roe to the dark grey of Osetra or Siberian. Colored Tobiko (Flying Fish roe) are also visually stimulating.
- Farm Raised versus Wild Harvested: with the advent of the closure of most wild sturgeon globally, few choices remain here, but Salmon Roe, domestic Spoonbill and Hackleback roes are still taken from the wild – build a flight that includes some of these along with the farm raised Californian White Sturgeon and domestic Siberian caviars.
2. Celebrate the Presentation
Presenting the Caviar Flight can be as sophisticated – or practical – as you want it to be. Certainly a bit of a flare and décor is appealing; after all, caviar remains a coveted and celebrated culinary luxury. But it is also important to identify the individual caviars so you know what you are experiencing, and be able to compare them and judge their individual merits. Caviar Flights are meant to be a discussion point, best shared, so that the diners can interact about what appeals to them and share the experience together.
Serviceware for caviar can be as elegant as the glass staircase created by Chef Rick Tramanto in Chicago (shown), or as practical as placing the individual jars in crushed ice alongside each other on a rectangular platter. Individual mother of pearl, shell or bone palettes can contain each selection, or perhaps place each tasting arranged in separate mounds on a larger caviar palette. Or place each caviar in a glass caviar server over crushed ice with serviceware for each diner to taste in progression, leaving the tin in front as a “placard” to identify each one. Again, style, practicality and implements are up to your imagination and resources (just remember not to use metal utensils when serving – metal can react to the oils in caviars and alter the taste on your palate. Use mother of pearl shell or bone spoons (even plastic if necessary) as these are considered superior to metal flatware in caviar service.
3. Pairing the Caviars with Food & Drink
Another tried and true tradition of caviar is to serve it with alcohol, a match made in heaven for most traditionalists. Rod Browne Mitchell weighs in: “In presenting a proper caviar flight, one should consider the types of caviar they want to taste so that the proper beverage of choice can accompany the presentation. If the intention is to actually compare the caviar tastes, then select a wine of good acidity, such as a medium bodied White Burgundy or, better yet, a light, cold, and crisp Champagne.” Peterson suggests that if multiple wines are to accompany the caviar flight that they “should increase in richness, if not necessarily complexity (it would depend on the individual wines) – such as a progression of Champagne to a Chablis, and then a Meursault”. Vodka is also a traditional favorite due to its neutrality of taste which doesn’t overwhelm the caviars’ flavors – and of course because the Russians’ passionate history for both caviar and vodka.
If your caviar flight is a “course” or amuse for a much longer meal, Rod suggests that “rich tasting foods should be avoided” at least prior to the caviar consumption, as the flavors may change your palate. Caviars are often paired with sophisticated dishes, but the standalone flight is really meant to be appreciated on its merits. Consider starting the meal with caviar. Many also like to finish with chocolates to offset the natural saltiness of the caviar with something sweet. While we are purists at Browne Trading and believe caviar should be enjoyed cold without anything more than a spoon, some may want to incorporate other complements to their tasting to create small amuses – caviar over plain toast points, blinis (with or without melted butter) or crackers, served with crème fraiche, over cucumber, with fine diced onion, crumbled hard-boiled egg, or even smoked salmon as canapés, are all within the traditional.
Whatever combination, service, or course you decide, creating a traditional caviar flight can be a special, indulgent and romantic gastronomic experience – and one that is best shared.
~ Nick Branchina