Ikra (Russian Caviar)


Ikra or the Russian caviar is culled from the sturgeon as it moves to fresh water to spawn in adjoining rivers, from its habitat in the Caspian Sea. The most prized ikra are Beluga, Ossietra, and Sevruga, in descending order of quality — and demand! Not surprisingly, it’s also fabulously expensive as the best caviar is from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. 
Each variety has its own special characteristics, and the eggs are firmest at the beginning of the fishing season. The sacs with the roe are beaten gently to loosen the eggs, and then put through a sieve to remove the fat and membrane. The liquid is pressed out; the eggs mildly salted and then sealed in small jars. The taste depends on how it’s handled and the salt added. This method of processing sturgeon roe into ikra has been handed down many generations by families who caught the fish, processed the roe and developed a national taste for it. 
Fresh ikra is rather a misnomer, since it is aged in the brine for at least one to four weeks or even longer. Roe, fresh from the fish has virtually no flavour; brine develops the flavour and also preserves it. The multicoloured eggs — black, green, brown, yellow or gray — are like tiny grains or peas. Ranged on a platter, they not only look beautiful, they extend an invite to taste it! Good ikra has to be very soft, tender and delicate, and is ranked by colour, size and species.  
The better ones have less salt and are termed as 'malossol' which in Russian means very little salt. Traditionally, ikra is always served in glass or shell containers. Otherwise, the sensitive 'berries' — a popular term to describe the globules — can develop an unpleasant metallic taste. Even the spoons for caviar are made of china, mother of pearl or tortoise shell and are sold in specialty shops. Served in a non-metallic bowl nestled inside a larger bowl filled with ice and to be eaten on thin pieces of toast or crackers with butter, finely minced onions and chopped hard-boiled eggs, the idea is to eat it in a single mouthful. The taste takes a while to appreciate but its unusual flavour kicks in a little later. Therefore the flavour is often referred to as an ‘acquired taste.’
The ikra from Ossietra has a brownish-green colour and a nutty flavour. Beluga, the largest of all roes, has soft, clear, glossy and large “berries”, and ranges in colour from light silver-gray to black. Its taste is creamy, almost buttery. And the eggs have a prominent dark spot called an “eye” which is the actual egg. This is considered the absolute best of all the ikra varieties. Sevruga caviar is gray and has a wonderfully robust flavour. Even though the Sevruga has the smallest eggs, it is considered the tastiest. Comparatively, Sevruga is also less expensive than the other two varieties but is enjoyed as a gourmet delicatessen item. 

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