Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bowfin Caviar: The Best Sturgeon Caviar Substitute?

As a member of a family of fish that’s even more ancient than the sturgeon, is the bowfin roe caviar currently the best sturgeon caviar substitute?

By: Ringo Bones

The bowfin – scientific name Amia calva – is classified in the order Amiiformes, family Amiidae. In America, the bowfin is better known by its Cajun name “choupique”, also called dogfish, grindle and lawyer. The fish is not related to the sturgeons but belongs to a more ancient family. The bowfin is a primitive fish and a sole living member of a family of fish that flourished as far back as the Jurassic period. As a species, bowfin is more closely related to the gar and is found in the swamps, rivers and lakes of North America from the Mississippi River eastward. The fish has a mottled olive body. The male grows about 18 inches, the female 24 inches.

The bowfin is easily recognized by the bony plate, the gular plate below its lower jaw, and by its long dorsal fin. The fish usually remains in deep water during the day. From time to time, it rises to the surface to gulp air. Anatomically like some archaic fishes, the bowfin’s primitive lung – which later developed into the gas bladder (also called swim or air bladder) is still connected to the gullet and in consequence such fishes, like the gar and bowfin, have, in effect, primitive lungs. Bowfin feeds on other fish, crustaceans, molluscs and insects. They’re nests are a saucer-like depression, about 2 feet wide built in a quiet bay or inlet. The eggs and young are guarded by the male.

To caviar connoisseurs now worried on the declining population of Caspian Sea beluga caviar, the bony bowfin yields a black roe with a distinctive flavour and makes a good tasting but way less expensive substitute for sturgeon caviar. Unlike sturgeon roe, bowfin roe will turn red when heated – which could be off-putting to the inexperienced. Taste wise, many swear by it as the best cost-effective substitute for Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon sourced caviar.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Paddlefish Caviar: Beluga Caviar Alternative Du Jour?

With Caspian Sea sourced beluga caviar already in danger of being eaten into extinction, will paddlefish caviar serve as an abundant alternatively flavored substitute?

By: Ringo Bones

Let’s assume your conscience is callous enough to allow you to consume an endangered species into extinction, it is more likely that you will be stopped by your sparsely loaded wallet. Since being classified as an endangered species back in 1997, whatever legally allowed quotas of beluga caviar being made available on the market since then, their prices had been steadily rising since the start of the 21st Century. But can a more environmentally-friendly substitute be found that’s just as tasty but doesn’t cost almost an arm and a leg?

The humble - and obscure to most caviar connoisseurs – paddlefish (scientific name Polyodon spathula) had lately become the must have beluga caviar substitute du jour. Often called spoonbills, paddlefish are a cousin to the sturgeons and yields a roe that range in color from pale through dark steel-gray and golden oscetra brown. Paddlefish roe caviar is also widely known for their smooth and silky texture and rich flavor.

As a species paddlefish belong to the family Polyodon and is found in the Mississippi River and in some still pristine rivers in China. Described as “degenerate” in evolutionary terms, paddlefish bags its food with its enormous mouth. A relative of the first major group of ray-finned fishes, it has a cartilaginous skeleton and an almost scale-less body, unlike its heavily-scaled predecessors. Paddlefish fecundity is no more or no less than that in comparison to most species of sturgeon. Its relative abundance is mostly due that it is not yet relatively hunted for its caviar.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

North American Whitefish: Caviar for the Masses?

With most sturgeon sourced caviar now in danger of being consumed to death, could the North American whitefish become the best source of caviar for the masses?

By: Ringo Bones

For as long as there been a whitefish industry in America and Canada, it has been suggested – for some time now – that whitefish eggs or roe may be made into caviar. And with the looming inevitability of sturgeon sourced caviar being eaten into extinction, whitefish sourced caviar – like its “fishy” counterpart could become an industry in itself. Fortunately, whitefish has an edge – in fecundity terms – in comparison to its sturgeon counterparts. But can whitefish caviar hold its own in the increasingly diversified – and competitive – caviar market?

Whitefish is an important salmon-like fish of the family Coregonidae. Found in North American lakes from about the latitude of the Great Lakes and northward, it is represented throughout its range by several subspecies. The whitefish, scientific name Coregonus clupeiformis, are very important food fish in the Great Lakes region. And although virtually depleted in some areas of the northern United States due to overfishing and pollution, about 4 million pounds are still marketed annually. Whitefish brings a high price; most of which are sold fresh while some are smoked. Whitefish roe has been made into caviar for as long as there is a whitefish industry in America, but most of it is only sold domestically.

Whitefish lives on a diet of insects and shellfish in moderately deep water for most of the year. It migrates shoreward in late spring and again in fall, when it spawns over shoal areas in depths of 4 to 20 feet. The average specimen runs between 2 and 4 lbs. but it reaches a maximum weight of over 20 lbs. The oldest specimen on record, as determined by reading the year marks on the scales, was 26 years of age. The Rocky Mountain whitefish or mountain herring, scientific name Coregonus williamsoni, is also an excellent food fish which may be caught by dry fly. Other species of whitefish are found in the Northern Hemisphere in temperate and Arctic regions.

Whitefish has crisply sparkling yellow eggs that burst with fresh flavour. Its naturally mild taste lends itself well to various flavour infusions like raw sea urchin to make it taste more like beluga caviar and smoking process. As a whole, mild flavoured caviars’ flavour variability are very dependent of the source fishes’ prevailing environmental conditions which it lived and the ingredients used in the roe’s preparation. Given the species’ excellent fecundity rate and increased anti-pollution and restocking campaigns, not to mention its good price-to-taste ratio, whitefish sourced caviar could well be the caviar for the masses.