My darling, thoughtful Iranian friend, just back from Tehran, gave me this incredibly generous gift - fresh Iranian caviar. It's Osetra, which they call Asetra. Makes no difference to me. Whatever they want to call it I call it awesome.
Such a treasure and a pleasure. Notice the grayish-silvery color. That's a hallmark of the finest caviar. The flavor is subtle, elegant and melts on the tongue with a resonance of the sea.
Here's a true story that could make a caviar lover weep. When Neam's Market was in Georgetown, where we now have Marvelous Market, they were provisioners to the Saudi Embassy, where caviar was regularly on the grocery list. Prince Bandar was an especially good customer. Times were different then overall, but the Saudi order helped to keep the price down. It was possible to buy a 16 ounce tin of the finest Iranian Beluga for $100-150, 7 ounces for $50-75. Today, Browne Trading Company in Portland, ME, one of the best places to buy imported caviar, and where we used to buy caviar for Nathans, is selling Israeli Osetra (which is less expensive than Beluga) for $2,685 for approximately 17 ounces. Iranian caivar is very difficult to find.
Another DC caviar story: back in the day, the 1970s, pre-Revolution, a man named Ardeshir Zahedi was the ambassador from Iran. He was quite the bon vivant and host. When he had parties (the regulars being Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli, Andy Warhol, White House staff and members of Congress) the morning-after gift, delivered by courier, was a nice-sized tin of premium Iranian caviar. Once, over at a CBS News colleague's home, I opened the refrigerator to see this gleaming and large tin of caviar. "Where did that come from?" I asked. "Oh, Ardeshir. I was at his house for a dinner last night."
One more DC caviar story. It was sometime in the 80s. Petrossian was coming to town, eyeing a possible market here. They had a party at the Vista Hotel (made famous by Marion Barry) to introduce restaurant owners to their product. My husband, Howard, was invited and so we went. There was good Champagne and Russian vodka. Over to the side was a round table and on it a large crystal bowl filled with ice and in the ice a very large tin of Beluga Malassol caviar. There were silver spoons for guests to scoop out as much as they wanted ... and we did...and when that supply was gone another tin appeared.
And, also in the 80s, there was the party the Russian ambassador tossed for Stolichnaya in the gorgeous, gilded embassy on 16th Street. Oh, what a party, and oh, what a menu: an endless supply of fine caviar and blinis.
In an era of crippling recession, increasing poverty and ever deeper divides between the super rich and the middle class, there's no question caviar is just about irrelevant. I get that and agree. Still, I intend to enjoy my 50 grams of indulgence. Purists say it should be eaten with a spoon, ideally made of shell. That's fine, except with a spoon it goes so fast. Shell? Well? Okay. I also like it on toast points with a little spritz of lemon, chopped onion and egg white, or on scrambled eggs (as I had it just now, with Whitmore Farm eggs), or on fresh fettucini. The other debate is whether to have it with Champagne or chilled vodka. Depends on the time of day and the origin. My breakable rule is vodka with Russian caviar and Champagne with Iranian.
btw, Cannons Fish Market in Georgetown stocks a very nice domestic caviar and the price is reasonable. Readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of Cannons and go there for all kinds of seafood. At Christmas, my gift to myself is a small jar of Cannons caviar.