By Herb Gardener –
Last month was Part I of this story. So now, let’s return to Healthy Earth Saraosta’s (HES) sturgeon aquaculture program and the luxe black pearls that are the pining of every blini.
As I approached the tank housing fish mature enough for reproduction several sturgeon flashed tarnished olive-toned flanks, then vanished into the murk. Molasses, added to promote biological filtration, had stained the water a roily brown, which cloaked the beasts as they swam toward the bottom. Despite the advanced research applications that surrounded me I felt witness to a Cretacean drama. Mr. Michael’s explanation of how sturgeon are identified for caviar production jolted me back to the present.
Because distinguishing male from female is a difficult matter with sturgeon, one that traditionally required fatal measures, HES deploys ultrasound equipment to find specimens that bear ovaries. The fish glide over the sensor and harmless sound waves map internal organs. Clever!
When the bell tolls, however, HES employees in clinically clean kitchens must sacrifice gravid females to harvest their eggs. An application of salt (HES uses a “malossol”, or “little salt” process) for flavor and preservation prepares the caviar for packaging. While we think of fish products as perishable and best eaten fresh caviar improves after several weeks of turning and aging in tins.
I regret that my tour of the HES campus did not include a tasting. International authority the House of Petrossian has sampled HES aquaculture caviar and praised its flavor and texture. Similar aquaculture operations in Israel and South Korea are globalizing and sustaining an industry that has long been associated with nations bordering the Caspian Sea. In fact, sustainably-raised captive stocks may (and should) displace wild caught caviar from the marketplace.
We seem to be enjoying a roe renaissance in food circles. One can find bottarga, for example, topping humble restaurant pizzas. Domestic fish species such as salmon, whitefish, spoonfish, and paddlefish yield delicious roe, but by law only sturgeon eggs may be sold as caviar. Brand protection is another parallel for two unsurpassed gastronomic experiences and status symbols. As Robin Leach announced on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, when hungry, we may succumb to “champagne wishes and caviar dreams…”
In France, eating one egg is “an oeuf.” But don’t let that stop you from cooking all the egg recipes in French Comfort Food (FCF) by Hillary Davis (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2014, $30.00). Regional, rustic dishes “raise the bar on comfort food as we know it.” From the long-simmering brilliance of cassoulet to a simple miner’s lunch of fresh radish and butter the French understand dishes that warm hearts and satisfy hunger. FCF is a charming paean to recipes that nourished many generations but are now losing shares in bistros and homes. The following “eggs poached in burgundy wine on garlic croutons” will bring a smile to any grand-mere or breakfast guest.
Eggs Poached in Burgundy
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ½ slices of bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus enough for bread slices
8 slices bacon, cut into small matchsticks
2 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups red burgundy wine
2 beef bouillon cubes
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 cracks freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs, room temperature
Mash butter and flour together with the back of a spoon in a small bowl to mix well. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.With a pastry brush, coat the slices of bread with olive oil and fry in the skillet over medium heat just until they begin to look golden, yet are still soft enough to slice with a fork and knife. Keep warm in the oven. In the same skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Discard the bacon fat, wipe out the skillet, and add olive oil. Sauté the shallots and garlic over medium heat for three minutes. Add wine, bouillon cubes, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and pepper and simmer two minutes. Whisk in the butter mixture and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Crack eggs, one at a time, in small dish and gently pour each egg into the barely simmering liquid. Poach until the whites are firm, three to four minutes. Place one slice of bread in each bowl and scatter crisp bacon all around it. Gently remove the eggs from the sauce with a slotted spoon, place two eggs on top of each bread slice, and then ladle the sauce over the eggs. Serve immediately.