Saturday, February 9, 2008
Recipe: Idaho Trout Caviar and Potato Blinis - Dark Days Challenge
This weekend, for my Dark Days Challenge, I made homemade Trout Caviar on Idaho Potato Blinis with Sour Cream. I had no idea a couple of weeks ago that I'd be making caviar, but the opportunity presented itself, and it seemed an interesting project. Here's the story behind my venture into the fru-fru side of local food...
While researching some ideas for preparing home-smoked trout from the fillets we were planning to buy, I came across some obscure references to "Trout Caviar." Doing a bit more research, I learned that there are commercial Trout Caviar suppliers in the U.S., but that most Trout Caviar currently comes from one particular farm in North Carolina. I learned that there had been a large corporation with some interest at one point in farming caviar-producing fish here in Idaho, but apparently that had fallen through. It looked like I was sitting right in the middle of the largest trout farming area in the country with nary a golden bite of trout caviar in sight!
Then, on a whim, I contacted the lady at the trout farm who had been so helpful with info on the fillets I'd ordered, and asked her if they ever sold fresh unprocessed fresh trout roe? They did. I ordered three pounds of the stuff to play with, and started hunting down articles on how to process it into Trout Caviar. Although the references I found were few and far between, by piecing together about a half dozen or so - many no more than just a sentence or two - I managed to figure out the basics of the process. I also found some ideas for flavorings and accompaniments, and even found some very interesting nutritional stats on it. As it turns out, the stuff is actually quite good for you - it's apparently packed with vitamins, protein and Omega 3 fatty acids. I think if it wasn't so prohibitively expensive to purchase it ready made, it would probably be touted as a health food of sorts. Making caviar at home, however, if you have access to fresh roe, can be quite economical. I got three pounds of unprocessed roe for less than five dollars from the trout farm.
Trout Caviar is very, very mild with a sweet buttery flavor. If you are worried that you won't like it because it tastes "fishy" then you will probably be pleasantly surprised. To be honest, this caviar doesn't even smell fishy.
BASIC TROUT CAVIAR
Trout roe - use only very fresh, very clean trout roe that's been kept very cold
Kosher or sea salt to taste
pinch of sugar
ice cold brine for soaking the roe skeins
First, soak the unprocessed roe skeins in a bowl of ice brine water. I used about a tablespoon of salt for a gallon of ice water. You want to wash as much of the raw juices out of the roe as possible before trying to get the eggs free. Treat the roe very, very gently so as few eggs as possible get broken.
After the roe has soaked for a few minutes, rinse under gently running water and let it drip a bit. Now you are ready to begin removing the eggs from the fibrous membranes. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of this. There is definitely a technique to getting the plump little eggs out of the roe "skeins" with minimal breakage and minimal skein fibers to have to pick out of the end result. In the end, this is the setup that worked best for me - a plastic rice paddle and a small cutting board. In this picture you can also see what a whole, unprocessed roe sack looks like.
The trick to getting the most eggs out whole is to think "push" not "chop." You want to hold one end of the roe sack and use your spatula or spoon to PUSH the eggs out of the membrane in stages. You will pop a few, but most should come out whole. As you work, occasionally scrape the accumulating pile of released eggs into a cup of ice cold salt water. When you have as many cleaned eggs as you need, begin rinsing them and pouring off the broken egg shells and other debris. The water will be cloudy at first from the broken eggs, but will clear after a few rinsings. Drain the eggs well and place them into a plastic container. Add salt, a pinch of sugar, or any other seasonings you like, and gently mix them in. Put the lid on it, and put it into the fridge for at least a few hours to cure and mellow out. All done!
According to the resources I dug up, fresh roe can be frozen in small batches for cleaning and curing later. That's what I did with much of mine. I only cleaned a few ounces for this meal. The rest was frozen in four ounce tupperware type containers.
MINI IDAHO POTATO BLINIS
Makes about 2 dozen "silver dollar" size blinis
1 medium to large potato, boiled or baked until tender but still firm, cooled
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup milk or half and half
1/3 cup flour
butter or olive oil for pan-frying
freshly chopped shallot greens or chives for garnish
To make the blinis, first, either coarsely mash or "rice" your cooked and cooled potato. You should have about a cup of potato when you are through. Add the two large eggs, the salt, pepper, parsley and red pepper flakes, and mix thoroughly. Add the flour and milk, and mix again.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls into a hot pan that's been oiled with butter or olive oil. Fry until lightly brown on the bottom, then flip and fry until cooked through. You should end up with about 24 mini blinis. Set the cooked blinis aside on a napkin to drain and cool until you have all the blinis cooked.
If you are doing a fix-your-own blini buffet, place the still slightly warm or room temperature blinis on a platter, along with a dish of sour cream and at least one flavor of cold Trout Caviar. I have two flavors here - plain and "smoked." The smoked is actually plain caviar that has one drop of smoke flavoring stirred into it.
To serve, place a teaspoon of sour cream on each blini. Top with a small spoonful of Trout Caviar, and sprinkle with freshly chopped shallot greens or chives, then a tiny bit of red pepper flakes. Pass additional kosher or sea salt if needed.