Blini with salmon roe. Wikimedia Commons image.
Twelfth-century Russia produced so much caviar that commoners could buy it, while elsewhere the “black gold” was almost unknown. One tsar sent a pound to a Western European monarch who had his cooks boil the diplomatic gift.
With beluga sturgeon critically endangered and its eggs fetching hundreds of dollars per ounce, salmon roe—at about $15 a pound—outside of Alaska, too, has become all the rage. Its coral-red pearls burst sensuously against the palate, dispersing a salty-sweet tang. It looks precious and boosts your health as one of the best sources of Omega 3, the fatty acid that staves off heart disease, diabetes, depression, and inflammation. Bears also know what’s nutritious, feeding exclusively on roe and brains when salmon are spawning.
The owner of a New York gourmet emporium considers this abundant alternative superior to beluga caviar, if it’s fresh and properly stored: at about 31 degrees and two percent salinity. In Russia, lososevaya ikra, or salmon caviar, has millions of fans; it’s affordable, and apparatchiks don’t control the supply. On black, buttered bread or potatoes with sour cream, washed down with vodka, this maritime “train food” tickles commuters’ working-class taste buds. It’s loved even more in Japan, where ikura ennobles sushi or steamed rice bowls and is said to make you smart. That country’s gourmets or “gurume” value dog-salmon caviar most; its eggs are bigger than those of the other species.
Over half the world’s salmon roe harvest comes from North American waters, a large percentage from the Pacific Northwest. Juneau’s Taku Fisheries cannery has made caviar a profitable sideline, selling over 100,000 pounds annually. Many subsistence and recreational fishermen cure and can the roe of salmon they catch. It’s important to separate the roe sac’s membrane from fresh or frozen spawn, which swirling the skeins in 120-degree water will accomplish. The eggs may grow cloudy, their color temporarily resembling that of unripe cranberries. Fished out with a plastic colander, they are rinsed in a pot of cold water, and rising tissue and fat are skimmed off. Then, adding barely a teaspoon of finely ground salt per cup of roe, the mass gets gently hand-mixed. An alchemical miracle turns the globules glassy and orange-red. Voila—caviar! Kept covered in the fridge it’ll last days and in tightly sealed jars in the freezer until your next proletarian party.
Buckwheat blinis with salmon roe
⅓ cup buckwheat flour
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup milk
1 large egg
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 to 6 oz. roe
¼ cup sour cream
chopped dill or chives, as garnish
Mix flours, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In separate bowl, mix egg and milk and whisk into flour mixture. (Add 2-3 Tbsp water if batter is too stiff.) Heat half the butter in a medium-size pan. Drop in 1 Tbsp batter at a time. Cook on medium heat until bubbles form. Flip over and cook another minute or two. Repeat with remaining batter and butter. Top blini with sour cream dollops and roe. Sprinkle