Caviar Dreams

When cooks think of kitchen toys, usually it's a zippy new appliance or cool gadget that makes life easier. But what if that toy were an ingredient? Recently, I was introduced to flavored whitefish roe, a newfangled product in the gourmet world.

Sushi eaters may know it as tobiko - the tiny red or orange eggs of flying fish, tucked inside a California roll or topping sashimi.

Infused whitefish roe from Tsar Nicoulai
Infused whitefish roe from Tsar Nicoulai.

In this case, it's American whitefish caught from the cold waters of the Great Lakes, then infused with tongue popping flavors, wasabi and ginger among them. Tsar Nicoulai (TN), a San Francisco-based boutique operation better known for its dynamite American (and sustainably-aquafarmed to boot!) caviar offerings, has taken the lead on this cool new trend that's got me all fired up.

Compared to sturgeon caviar, infused whitefish roes are like "caviar light," with a mellower flavor and smaller eggs that go down the hatch a little easier -- well suited for caviar novices.

My recent maiden voyage on the whitefish roe train was naked - no crackers or blini--just the eggs and me (and a glass of Champagne to wash it all down, of course). But on subsequent tries, I used it while cooking, as a way to play with color, texture and far-out flavor.

The brilliant yellow beads of ginger roe worked beautifully on top of a piece of seared yellowfin tuna (and I could see it doing magic as well on top of wild salmon), but I really loved it as part of a lemon vinaigrette tossed over a bowl of mixed greens, all sparkly and looking ready to party.

While trying my new creations, I cooked up a few more ideas - why not add to summer rolls (which, by the way, I'm planning to feature in coming weeks), risotto (particularly the truffle flavor), paella (using beet/saffron flavor) -- or why not spritz up a mound of plain ole white rice?

If you're the kind of cook who likes to play with your food, this is a relatively inexpensive toy that feeds a small group of adventurers. A fraction of the cost of TN's Osetra caviar ($59 for one ounce), a two-ounce jar of flavored roe is $18.

Locally, you can find the goods at Dean and Deluca in Georgetown. Whole Foods does carry it, but only at certain locations. I spoke with Dan Johnson, the seafood team leader at Whole Food's P Street store, and although he didn't have any on hand this morning, Johnson was planning to place an order today for all you curious caviar cats. You may also order directly from TN's Web site.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 1, 2006; 10:00 AM ET Discoveries
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I love caviar! Thanks for writing this. Although tobiko is flying fish roe, right? Different from whitefish? I look forward to trying your suggestions... and adding the wasabi to my sushi!

Posted by: Kimiko | June 7, 2006 6:25 PM

FYI - I am the demo coordinator at the Whole Foods on P St, and we are going to do an informal tasting of this caviar on Friday from appx 4:30 - 6:30 pm. Call ahead if you are making a special trip to ensure that it's still a go, but if you are in the store, I hope you'll drop by!

Posted by: Kris Schultz | June 8, 2006 2:41 PM

Kris, thanks so much for the caviar 411. What a nice way to kick off the weekend! Will try to stop by.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 8, 2006 3:03 PM

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