Fresh caviar is delicious, but the idea of preparing caviar can be really daunting; I know I was really nervous the first time I tried! Both salmon and trout caviar is incredibly easy to make at home (and nearly not as hard as you may think). Actually, the most challenging part is getting your hands on fresh roe.
Fresh roe is really hard to come by here. If you’re lucky enough to catch a trout or a salmon with a belly full of roe, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot! You can also buy it fresh from a fish monger, but that is pretty rare these days because we have a lot of farming here. The eggs stripped from the fish are used in the hatcheries or sold commercially and prepared into caviar by the fish farms. If you’re lucky, like me, and live relatively close to a fish farm, then you can ask them. I organised with the hatchery manager to purchase a few kilo’s of roe during the spawning season. This hatchery farms both salmon and trout; I also purchased some salmon roe and caught several trout from the stocked ponds – they all where carrying roe, so I was extremely happy to say the least.
1-2 kg fresh roe (trout or salmon)
60ml grape seed oil
for the brine solution
2-3 litres natural spring water
1 kg Kosher salt or small grain sea salt (do NOT use table salt – it contains iodine)
1 potato and/or egg
Note – all these ingredients are approximates, it all depends on how much roe you have. You can substitute grape seed oil with sunflower oil.
– Prepare the brine solution in advance as it takes a long time to cool. The brine lasts for several weeks if stored correctly.
To make the brine, place a heavy bottomed pan on the stove and fill with the natural spring water (the reason I use spring water and not tap water is because it’s not chlorinated, and the roe is very delicate). Bring the water to the boil and then remove from the heat. Pour in the salt and stir to dissolve until you can’t dissolve anymore salt. Mine ended up being around 350-400g of salt per litre of water. You’re probably still wondering what the potato or egg is used for? Place the potato or egg in the pan and if it floats to the top you have the correct consistency of salt to water, if it hasn’t risen to the surface you will need to dissolve more salt. Once you have achieved optimum floatiness, bring the water back to a boil for 15 minutes and then leave to cool to room temperature. I then poured the brine back into the empty bottles from the spring water and placed it in a cool dark place until needed.
Here is the roe as is straight from the farm. You’ll notice that there are some yellow-ish looking eggs that are opaque. These opaque eggs are broken, dead or empty. We’ll be picking these out later.
Place the roe into a plastic sieve, try to avoid metallic sieves or utensils at all costs as the metal may impart an undesirable flavour in the roe by causing it to oxidise and tarnishing the flavour. Run the sieve under cold tap water for several minutes, this helps wash away any impurities i.e. bits of egg skeins (the skein is the membrane that holds the eggs together), connective tissue, blood and any other bits of grit etc.
Place the roe in a large (we’ll keep going with the non metallic theme here too) bowl and fill with the brine solution. Make sure the roe is completely covered with the solution and has a good cm or so of extra coverage on top, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes depending on the size of the eggs and your taste for saltiness. Time is critical here, because the longer you have the roe in the solution, the saltier the caviar will be. It’s a tricky balance, because if you don’t leave it long enough the salt levels won’t be high enough to help with preservation. If you leave it too long though, your caviar will be too salty. (Note: If you hit the right salt amount the caviar should keep for approximately a couple of weeks to a month before it starts to have a strong “fishy” taste and aroma. This is certainly a case of ‘fresh is best’ though, so try to eat is soon as you can.)
I have found that 20 minutes is perfect, the roe is not overly salty. Its better to slightly over salt then under salt, in my mind anyway.
While you have the roe in the solution, it is the prefect time to pick out those opaque eggs. Traditionally spoons made with buffalo horns were used as they do not taint the eggs, but if you’re all out of horn spoons a wooden one will do just fine. Stir through the roe gently And scoop out the opaque eggs as you go. Don’t worry if the roe becomes slightly wrinkly and/or cloudy in appearance as this is normal (it means the salt is reacting with the roe); they will become more translucent again at the end of the process.
After the 15-20 minutes of brine time is up, you can taste test the eggs (as technically it is now caviar and is ready to eat) to determine whether it needs to stay longer in the brine or not. When you’re happy with the level of saltiness place the roe back into the sieve and gently rinse the brine away under cold running water. At this point any cloudiness should now become translucent again. If you find the roe too salty for your taste after rinsing, soak them in cold spring water for around 5 minutes, which will dilute the salt. Keep in mind that less salt means a shorter shelf life for the caviar.
On a clean work space fold several layers of paper towel; I like to put the paper towel in 4 sections just like a square. Divide the roe and place the on all 4 sections of the paper towel. Where possible, it is best to spread it evenly in a single layer. The paper towel helps absorb any excess moisture from the roe and it also makes it easier to check for any remaining dead or broken eggs that might have been missed earlier. I also occasionally lift the corners of the paper towel to speed up draining. I leave the roe on the paper towels anything up to 20 minutes to half an hour maximum. Ultimately try to work as quick as you can.
I have made caviar several times now and each time I make it I pick up little helpful hints along the way. This would have to be the most useful thing I have learned:
I purchased 2 small spray bottles, I filled the first bottle with grape seed oil and the second with brandy. When sorting through each of the quadrants I would spray the grapeseed oil to help separate the individual roe and make it less sticky. This helps a lot with sorting out the roe. If you want to carefully pick out the broken eggs with your hands, spray the oil directly onto on your hands. I sprayed the brandy to help develop the flavour as well as help increase the shelf life because of the alcohol content. I found it so much easier to lightly spray the roe with the fine mist from the bottles than trying to pour liquid onto it.
Sorting through and picking out the broken and opaque eggs.
When the roe is able to come off the paper towel ‘freely’ without sticking to it, then that is when you know you have applied enough oil.
Carefully transfer the caviar into clean sterilized glass jars and store in a refrigerator anything up to a month. When the caviar starts to taste “fishy” it means it’s getting old; it should still be fine to eat (use your own discretion here), but you should finish it off pretty quickly.
Fresh caviar is very unique as the shape of the individual eggs is very pronounced. You could almost eat each egg individually if you wanted to! They are like little bubbles that explode with flavour.
Serve on blini’s, rye bread or crackers with butter, cream cheese or crème fresh. Before serving you can also give the caviar another spritz with the grape seed oil to give it that really shiny look. Oh and of course don’t forget the chilled vodka. Enjoy!