Recipe of the month: Osciètre, blini and smetana

 Osciètre refers either to the Iranian sturgeon, Acipenser persicus, or to the Russian one, Acipenser gueldenstaedti. The Osciètre is the most interesting of all sturgeons.
The sturgeon in one of the oldest of all the vertebrates on earth. It lurked in lakes and rivers in the northern hemisphere about one to two hundred million years ago, while the dinosaurs were lumbering around on land. The sturgeon has a very ancient look. Instead of scales it has bony plates on the outer surface of its body which make it look like a cousin of the reptiles.

Despite its impressive size and heavily armoured surface, the sturgeon is a gentle creature with a calm nature. It has very sensitive tentacles on the sides of its nosetip which remind one of the whiskers on a catfish. Their function is to facilitate the search for snails, insects, crustaceans and small mussels. The tube-shaped mouth shoots down towards the bottom so that it works like a vacuum-cleaner nozzle.

There are no sturgeon to be found in the southern hemisphere whereas there are twenty-four species of sturgeon in lakes and rivers in the northern hemisphere. One of these is of course the Osciètre sturgeon. Life as an Osciètre sturgeon starts as an egg on the gravelly bottom of some fast-running stream. The egg hatches after a very short time. It usually only takes two weeks. The baby sturgeon fry hug the bottom of the stream, feeding on algae and small underwater insects on their way out to the mouth of the stream where they spend most of their lives. The life cycles of most of the species of sturgeon are very similar, irrespective of size and length of life.

They can grow to two metres in length and weigh two hundred kilos. The females start producing eggs from about the eleventh year of their life. The Osciètre sturgeon lives on plankton and small fish and can become over eighty years old. It is mainly fished by fishermen from Russia, Kazakstan or Azerbaijan.

Tasting note

The eggs are very large and delicious. The flavour varies with the age of the sturgeon. The colour of the roe also varies according to the age of the fish. To start with, while it is young, it is dark grey to dark reddish-brown, whereas at the age of forty or so the eggs turn black and at the age of eighty they are completely yellow (Impérial caviar). Oscietra is the only kind of large roe to have a uniquely nutty flavour (walnuts and cream). An unusual type very highly prized by connoisseurs.

Market price
$367-$644 for 100 grammes (2007).
30,000 rubels per kilo in Moscow (2008).

Recipe: Osciètre, blini and smetana
6 helpings

Ingredients

50 g yeast
2 dl lukewarm water
3 eggs
4 dl lukewarm single cream
3 tsps salt
2 1/2 dl wheat flour
5 dl buckwheat flour
1 dl melted butter
6 dl milk

Method: blini

Crumble the yeast and pour the lukewarm water on to it.
Whip the eggs to a froth in a large bowl and then whip in the lukewarm cream.
Continue whipping while blending the yeast solution, salt, flour and melted butter into the egg and cream mixture.
Allow the mixture to rise in a warm, draught-free place for 4 hours.
Warm the milk to lukewarm and whip it into the mixture so that it becomes a batter.
Fry like small pancakes, preferable in blini pans with high rims.

Method: smetana

1 litre of double cream
2 dessertspoons of white vinegar

Pour 1 litre of double cream into a bowl (not metal). Add 2 dessertspoons of pure white vinegar – natural vinegar or good wine vinegar – and stir thoroughly. The bowl should then stand for 2-3 days in a warm room until the cream has soured.
Stir everything again and cover the surface of the sour cream with a damp, wrung-out napkin folded several times. This will eventually absorb the water from the cream, making it thicken into so-called "smetana".
When the smetana is ready it should be stored in a cold, odourless place.

Caviar
Osciètre (can of course be exchanged for another type of caviar more to one’s own taste: Sevruga, Oscietra, Beluga Imperial)

Serve with:
Melted butter
Chopped onion
Caviar of your own choice, but we prefer Osciètre
Smetana

Other successful combinations:

Lobster carpaccio with caviar on croutons
NV rosé Champagne or a good white Burgundy (Côte de Beaune 1er cru or grand cru).

Jersey Royals (small new potatoes) with caviar
NV Brut l er cru rosé Champagne.

Fried quails’ eggs on toast topped with caviar
Vintage Champagne, Grand Cru Chablis or white Bordeaux (Graves or Péssac-Léognan).

Quails’ eggs with caviar
Vintage Champagne, Grand Cru Chablis or white Bordeaux (Graves or Péssac-Léognan).

Steak tartar with caviar
Vintage rosé Champagne or a young red wine with low tannin (Chinon Cru Beaujolais) preferably served chilled.

Tempura of aubergine and zuccini with caviar
Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or Clare Valley Riesling.

Watercress ’cappuccino’ with caviar
Vodka or Sauvignon Blanc or top quality Riesling.

Coquilles Saint Jacques baked in a gratin dish with caviar
White premium Burgundy, demi-sec Vouvray or Mosel Riesling Kabinett.

Scrambled eggs with fresh truffles and caviar on brioche
Mature vintage champagne.

Poached eggs with caviar on smooth potato purée with Hollandaise sauce
NV Champagne, Premier or Grand Cru Chablis.

Spaghettini with caviar and Champagne sauce
NV Champagne, white Burgundy, pinot grigio or pinot bianco.

Allain Passard’s soft-boiled quails’ eggs with Oscietra
A perfect dish that is among the best RJ has ever experienced when accompanied by champagne

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