You can entertain with caviar. While most snobs or purists will try and convince you that “true or real” caviar originates with just the sturgeon, there are some very good substitutes. There is the American caviar, salmon caviar, black caviar, paddle caviar, etc. Do not deprive yourself of one of the gastronomical pleasures in life, just because the purists do not eat it. It really comes down to your presentation and what accompanies your caviar of choice.
Iranian and Russian Red caviar from the sturgeon costs over $100 an ounce, this is far too much for many people to serve as an appetizer. Even the American Osetra sturgeon raised in Aqua farms cost well over $100 an ounce. There are much other fish that produce excellent roe, and make excellent caviar for appetizers. My father would often treat salmon roe for us to snack on, and we loved this “caviar”. It has a beautiful texture and a wonderful pop in the mouth. Technically, this is what you are looking for in caviar – the pop in the mouth.
The American paddlefish in 1998, the U.S. government ruled that the paddlefish is a sturgeon for food purposes. The roe is small to medium in size, varying shades of gray in color. You can find this for around $30 -$35 an ounce.
The Salmon is aesthetically pleasing caviar, with its orange and red coloring. Many chefs will use it as a replacement for sturgeon caviar. My father would use salmon roe as caviar. We children really enjoyed it. We loved the popping sensation in our mouths. He would often lightly smoke it for us. You can purchase this for around $10.
Make sure that the American paddlefish and salmon caviar is malossol, this means that it was processed with the use of minimal salt. While there is a certain amount of salt that will be used, approximately 5%, when it is malossol it will not use much more than the 5%. You will also have to use it as soon as possible because it will perish more quickly.
Interesting and cheap caviar is the Black Capelin Caviar that you can purchase for as little as $6 an ounce. There is Trout caviar, White Fish caviar, Carp Caviar, etc. All of these caviars are inexpensive, and can be enjoyed by everybody.
How do you serve these caviars?
They should be served in a couple of glass bowls, one filled with ice and a smaller one filled with caviar. You should not serve them with metallic spoons, but serve them with glass, bone, tortoiseshell, wood, plastic or even mother of pearl spoons.
While the more expensive caviar benefits from bland toast or crackers, with the more inexpensive caviars you can take more liberaties. Just keep the salt content down on your garnishes. Many people like to serve them with lemon slices, sour cream, créme frâiche, hard-cooked egg (yolks and whites chopped finely), and minced onion. You can even serve them in small crepes, with a touch of sour cream or creme fraiche.