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.