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Experimenting with Salmon Caviar

Steelhead Caviar spoons with Apple, Dill & Goat Cheese Mousse

I’ve done a couple different attempts at making salmon caviar.  The first was a pretty standard salt brine.  After cleaning the eggs, they go in the brine for 30 minutes, then get rinsed and are allowed to drain overnight before getting jarred.  It lasts for a while in the fridge after curing, but vacuum sealing the jars will extend that quite a bit.

This week I tried a different cure on a batch of eggs. The recipe was supposedly a Japanese Ikura style cure, like you might get at a sushi restaurant. Rather than a simple salt brine, and a 30 minute cure, this has a mix of salt, sake, dashi, soy and sugar, and its in the cure overnight.

Right away that seemed like a bit much to me, but I gave it a shot. Sure enough, when it came out of the brine, all traces of caviar flavor were gone. They tasted like little sake-soy balls. They didn’t taste bad so much, they just didn’t taste like fish eggs at all. For people who don’t like the taste of caviar, and there are a lot of those folks (what’s up, Jim?) they’d be great. But to me, that’s a distortion of the product.

Still, the fishy taste of caviar tends to strengthen in the days after the cure. Right now, I have it all vacuum sealed in these little jars. I’ll see if the taste balances out after it rests for a bit.

I’ve gotten some important information from trying these two different recipes.
I have one basic recipe that preserves the natural flavor of the caviar.  My Japanese lady friend who’s a big fan of Ikura, was very fond of that recipe.  So that’s a good sign.

More importantly, I have learned some interesting stuff here.  Caviar can be cured (over cured?) in a way that totally takes all that fishy flavor out, and supplants it with the taste of whatever is in the brine.  That means that somewhere in between the 30 minute salt cure, and the overnight ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ method, a balance can be struck.  With a bit more experimentation, I can work out cures that properly enhance the caviar with all kinds of interesting flavors: ginger, citrus, chilies, wasabi … my mind is spinning with the possibilities.

The downside is that I have no recipe for you yet.  At least, I don’t have one that I’m proud enough of to put on this blog.  But hold on, this year’s salmon season should provide me plenty eggs with which to work out some recipes that are worth sharing.
This is going to be fun.  Stay tuned.

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