Thursday, January 12, 2012

Benjamin Button Inspired Caviar New Year's

New Year’s Eve for me has usually meant a sit down dinner of some kind at my best friend’s house followed by karaoke into the wee hours after the clock strikes twelve. But this year, no longer single, it was time to do it up in style with my mate who had recently watched the movie Benjamin Button and was inspired by the “you only live once” attitude of the film wherein the subjects splurge on champagne and caviar. We both are avid foodies and were each quite embarrassed to admit that we had never tried the elegant combination of extravagant fish roe with bubbly. We decided to go decadent and spend time alone at home cooking blinis from DorieGreenspan’s Around My French Table cookbook upon which we would enjoy a tasting of various blends of roe and condiments and decide which libations paired best with each version.

We bought the caviar at Surfas in Culver City, a dream store for chefs and foodies where exotic bits from around the world are sold alongside utensils and equipment sought out by a world of adventurous cooks. We chose three varieties from the lowest priced to the highest priced. First was the least expensive Tobikko, or flying fish roe, followed by the smoky dark grey paddlefish roe of medium sized pearls and lastly, the hundred and thirty dollar jar of inky black Osetra. 

While cooking the blinis we prepared a plate of condiments: thin smoked trout and salmon laid across a plate and tiny bowls of minced red onion, sour cream, hard boiled egg and chives plucked from my mate’s garden.

We also set up an elaborate selection of drinks from a Blanc champagne and a Noir champagne to three types of vodka ranging from the cheap to the priciest. Our goal was to see what pairings tasted best regardless of price or preconceived notion.

Once all was chilled, cooked, diced and ready to go, we laid a table with our wares and embarked on a two hour mix and match-a-thon. 

Our findings were as follows:

By itself, the Tobikko Caviar, the lowliest of the fish roe, tasted smoky and popped delightfully in the mouth. Perhaps because it was the cheapest, it tasted best paired with the Belvedere vodka, which elevated the caviar stepchild to a higher plane of flavor and style. It also went well with the Blanc champagne, which provided a sparkling halo around the lowly roe. Red onion, salmon and egg provided enough peripheral flavor to do the same thing, although you needed a larger portion of the roe on the blini to make sure the essences of the caviar were topmost on the palate.

The medium priced Paddlefish roe tasted kind of musky and fishy on its own and the texture was mushy compared to the others. Being a midrange item, it paired well with the Chopin vodka and the Noir champagne, each finding equal ground to let the roe’s flavor shine through without being overpowering. This is also why the roe went best with the more subtle smoked trout as a bed, accentuated with just a hint of pepper brought in by the red onion.

Surprisingly, the ultra expensive osetra went best with cheap Russian Standard vodka chilled to icy perfection. Best not to have the world-class roe compete with a world-class drink; this was an example where we discovered that opposites do indeed attract. It also went well with the Blanc champagne, which danced electrifyingly with the large pearls on the tongue swirled down the throat in a wash of citrusy bliss. Again the smoked trout provided a perfect blander base than the salmon would with just a dab of sour cream to mingle the flavors.

Of course, by this time in the tasting we were almost as bubbly as the champagne and full bellied content enough from multiple variations on our fabulous buckwheat blinis that we barely even touched our dessert cheese plate. We managed to leave a small spoonful of caviar in each jar for an extra pure bite in the morning. A memorable New Year’s Eve in the spirit of Carpe Diem!


  1. Nice post - sounds like a great NY's to me! When are you back in the desert?

  2. Caviar is supposed to be kept over ice