Posted by GR0 on October 06, 2020
So you’ve taken the plunge and laid down the money for some fine caviar, but you want to know how to care for your investment and make sure those flavors last.
The truth is that caviar doesn’t last forever, but you can do a lot to make sure you get the most mileage out of each gram.
Let’s examine how long caviar is meant to last and the steps you can take to improve its shelf life without diminishing quality.
WHY CAVIAR IS CURED
“Cured sturgeon roe” is the purest definition of caviar, and by cured, we simply mean salted in a way that preserves the eggs for longer than possible in nature. Sturgeon caviars are the only true caviar, including favorites such as Osetra caviar, Iranian and Russian caviar from the Caspian Sea, Beluga caviar, and Sevruga caviar.
It can be cured heavily or lightly depending on the eggs’ quality, but at least a little bit of salt is necessary for the food to be classified as caviar.
While sustainable farming and production methods have advanced quickly in the 21st century, the process of curing sturgeon roe remains fairly simple.
Once the eggs are separated from the membranes and all impurities are removed via gentle scraping across a metal screen, the eggs are washed and prepped to be cured.
From there, the producers will submerge the eggs in a saline solution, which will have varying levels of salt content determined by the specifications of the final product.
For premium sturgeon caviar like beluga, ossetra, and sevruga, producers typically aim for the total salt content to be less than 3.5%, earning the label “malossol” or “little salt.”
Larger batches of commercial caviar can contain salt content anywhere between 5% and 9%, although most producers avoid going over the 10% mark in most circumstances.
When manufacturing “payusnaya” pressed caviar products and caviar paste, it’s generally assumed that salt content will be over 10% to ensure structure and preservation. As a result, these products have longer shelf lives and remain edible for weeks after opening.
The eggs will not remain in the salt bath long, as they are quick to absorb. Most of the curing takes place once the caviar is packed into individual containers. That caviar in your refrigerator right now is still undergoing slow but steady curing as it rests.
While the curing process does help to preserve the caviar for longer than most seafood and bring out some flavor, this is still a highly perishable product that should be consumed sooner rather than later.
Malossol caviars should remain in the fridge no longer than four weeks before opening and enjoying, and even saltier varieties tend to taste better earlier on. When properly stored, an unopened container lasts up to 15 months in some cases.
Once that container is opened, it is best to consume it all within less than 48 hours.
PASTEURIZED OR UNPASTEURIZED?
The pasteurization process is widespread in the world of canned and tinned foods, and it involves lightly cooking the caviar to extend its shelf life.
This doesn’t mean that the caviar loses all of its charms, but you will notice that these products tend not to have the same “pop” and freshness of flavor as traditional varieties like malossol.
The upside of pasteurized caviar is that you can keep an unopened container on the shelf for up to a year without worrying about further degradation.
However, once you do pop the seal, you should treat the pasteurized product the same way you would find caviar— consume it that day or within 48 hours if possible.
While it’s rare to see pasteurized caviar labeled as such, you can usually tell by the way it is packaged. Vacuum sealed containers typically indicate that the product has been pasteurized, but you can ask a trusted merchant or consult online to determine for sure.
Some connoisseurs may look down their noses at pasteurized caviar, but these are entry-level products that have their appropriate time and place.
They are great for use in larger quantities to make pasta and more complex dishes, where larger tins of high-grade caviar would be considered a wasteful use of expensive food.
With that said, the finest caviars are unpasteurized and meant to be consumed quickly after packaging to ensure maximum freshness and flavor.
IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR LONGEVITY
Now that you have an understanding of how caviar is cured and an idea of how long various products will last, let’s talk about the proper storage of caviar.
If you order from a reputable producer, your caviar will arrive secured in dry ice or another type of cold packaging to ensure freshness. Don’t let it sit outside in the heat any longer than necessary— the caviar should immediately be taken out of the box and moved to the fridge.
Unopened containers of fresh caviar should be stored cold, just around freezing point, but not fully frozen. Anywhere between 28 and 32 degrees is ideal, so determine the coldest area of your refrigerator and designate it as your caviar storage spot.
Any leftover caviar should be tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in the same place, but don’t forget about it! Make sure you finish off the jar within a day or two.
For some folks, the freezer is the only ice-cold option for caviar storage. Although, sometimes, the refrigerator's bottom drawer or the very bottom, back part of the fridge can preserve optimal quality by protecting it from temperature changes. You could also store unopened pasteurized caviar tins in small bowls of ice in the back of the fridge.
If you do choose to keep your chilled caviar in the freezer, be aware that taste and texture will take a hit as a result of the thawing process once it’s taken out.
Freezing caviar may be fine for bowfin or hackleback caviar. However, when storing more expensive varieties like ossetra or sevruga, we recommend normal refrigeration to minimize the loss in quality and to maintain its firm texture.
MAINTAIN QUALITY WHEN SERVING
You can preserve your caviar perfectly and follow all the guidelines we’ve laid out, but if you don’t serve your caviar correctly, you may compromise those lovely flavors and fail to get the most out of your experience.
Proper caviar service begins as soon as you take the container out of the refrigerator. A common mistake is to simply pop it open and dig in, but that’s the wrong move.
Instead, you’ll want to let the caviar sit at room temperature for about ten minutes before opening the container to let the eggs settle and separate from one another.
From here, you can put the container on ice and serve or move it to a separate cold vessel.
Proper dishware and implements are key here and help ensure the caviar keeps 100% of its quality while serving and scooping.
Avoid having your caviar come into contact with metal spoons, bowls, or anything made of this material. It will not only ruin the taste of your caviar but may also cause surface damage to your kitchenware via oxidative reactions from the eggs.
If you are planning to make caviar a regular part of your routine, it’s worth purchasing a designated glass bowl set and some mother-of-pearl spoons to make the most of your investment.
Finally, don’t let your caviar sit out too long while you’re chatting with guests and making the rounds. The caviar should be the main focus of the moment to ensure everyone gets a taste at its peak.
A DELICATE DELICACY
When it comes to making the most of your caviar investment, there are a lot of factors in your control. If you follow the tips we’ve talked about in this article, your caviar will last longer than you thought possible!
Make sure you serve your caviar properly to maintain that flavour and texture in every bite, whether you prepare it as a garnish or as the main event. Popular accompaniments include blinis, toast, sour cream, unsalted crackers, champagne, and vodka. Before you know it, you'll have eaten the whole tin.
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