Everyone has their nonnegotiable way they drink their coffee or eat their eggs. Same goes for Russians and their blini. It’s not even the toppings chosen, but the order in which they go on the blin that is sacred, too. Standard toppings include melted butter, a variety of smoked fish, sour cream, chopped eggs, chopped green onions, and, of course, caviar. Washed down with some cold vodka.
Monday marks the beginning of the blini “season” for Russians. It’s called Maslenitsa, and it’s actually just a week long. It officially starts Monday, but I’m sure many have had blini at least twice already and have another three to four more times to go this "season."
Stateside, Maslenitsa (usually translated to Cheesefare or Butter Week) is more of a blini eating marathon with some local Russian communities hosting parties on Friday. In Russia, it is like a Mardi Gras with festivals in all the major parks – live concerts, blini stands, a scarecrow burning, vendor stalls, snow tubing, and much more. There’s no flashing for beads, but men do get drunk and punch each other. My husband and I spent a Maslenitsa in Russia and it was spectacular.
As with any cultural traditions, people can be very dedicated to how they make or eat their blini. I find that blini among the Russian Americans on the West Coast are thicker, while thinner on the East Coast. Some have a topped stack of two that they roll up, some people don’t roll them up, some finish with a sweet blin topped with jam or syrup. In Russia, they were paper thin and crispy on the edges. I tried one that was filled with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Not a traditional filling, but I couldn’t resist the potato option, as you already know
. I usually tap out at four in one sitting.
My mom doesn’t tend to get too attached to certain recipes and is willing to find new ones that might make something easier, healthier or more interesting. One year at my parents’ church, they made a batch of gluten-free blini for anyone who needed them. Traditionally, blini are made with a yeast batter and can take a while (the ladies at our church start at 6am for the parish blini feast). While visiting in California, my parents and I had a blini meal. This go around we found a recipe using kefir that took a lot less time, but was still so good.
We had Tsar Nicoulai’s Reserve Caviar, Gold Pearl Salmon Roe, and triple smoked sturgeon as the main toppings. Salmon roe is usually what people have at big gatherings for blini, but the Reserve Caviar was a welcome alternative and really upped the flavor level. The subtle properties of the caviar were not lost amidst the other toppings on the blin. The suggested beverage pairing for the Reserve Caviar also happens to be chilled vodka...so that’s convenient.
The smoked sturgeon
also added a different flavor profile for my blini. I normally use smoked salmon (which we also had that day) or smoked herring. The triple smoked sturgeon
from Tsar Nicoulai has a much heavier smokiness to it. It’s truly farm-to-table, coming from the sturgeon farm in Wilton
, CA, and smoked on California Applewood from a neighboring orchard, which you can taste in its unique flavor. It paired well with the Reserve
and it made for a great blin. The best blin my dad has ever eaten, in fact. And he can be a bit of a food snob…a blin snob??
My dad is a Russian Orthodox priest. He is probably the main reason people at my high school reunion remembered who I am. The stories I have can go on for days. I’m sure he will come up again.
Russian Kefir Blini (Makes about 10 9” crepes)
Adapted from Vikalinka.com
2 cups flour
3 cups kefir
1 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Oil or butter for frying
Reserve Caviar and Salmon Roe
Smoked fish of choice
Chopped boiled eggs
Chopped green onions
1. In a mixing bowl mix eggs, flour, 1 cup of kefir, baking soda, sugar, and salt with a whisk. When the mixture is smooth and has no lumps, add remaining kefir and water. The consistency should be the same as that of heavy cream. Let stand for 20-30 minutes. You should see small bubbles on the surface of your batter.
2. Preheat your non-stick frying pan on medium heat and grease it with oil or butter. A common trick we use is to stick a halved raw potato on a fork cut side down. Dip the potato in the oil or melted butter and coat the pan. Do this in between each pancake. (some people also use a raw onion)
3. With a ladle or a measuring cup pour 3/4 cup of batter in the pan and tilt the pan slightly so batter runs to the edges forming a thin and round crepe. Cook it until batter looks dry, then flip with a spatula and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
There is a saying “s pervim blinkomom” – “with the first blin." Most times when making pancakes, your first one is a mess. It usually takes a couple tries before you get the hang of the heat, spooning the batter, tipping the pan, and flipping, etc. You have to find your rhythm. The saying is applied to all new ventures in life.
4. Stack the ready blini on a plate and keep warm by covering, or adding them in small batches to a pan in a low temperature oven.
5. Serve with toppings.
My nonnegotiable blini topping method is as follows: I brush it with melted butter, spread sour cream on top with a spoon, add smoked fish, then chopped eggs and finally, caviar. I roll that up and eat it with a fork and knife. If someone offers me a shot of vodka, I usually say yes.
I consider myself a bit of a foodie. Real foodies probably don’t say that out loud. Regardless, I’ve tried countless unique, adventurous, and innovative dishes. However, if I were told to only pick one thing to eat for the rest of my life, it would most definitely be the not-so-glamorous potato. I could eat potato in all its abundant varieties and forms, forever. Don’t tell the diet fad followers and starch haters of the world, please. I like quinoa too, guys. Relax.
But, potatoes…the love is real. I could seriously tell you at least five relatively interesting stories from my life that have something to do with potatoes. At least they start or in some way include potatoes. So, not only do I constantly want to eat potatoes, but my use of them as a conversation starter or reviver is surprisingly frequent, as well.
There is a breakfast and lunch place in my California hometown that serves the best hash browns ever. I always fit in a breakfast (or ten) when I am out there. Going to Christie’s to order hash browns is pretty much my first thought every morning during family visits. So, it’s no shock that I was itching to try out the Tsar Nicoulai Estate Caviar’s ‘Traditional Signature Bite’ – a potato pancake, or latke, topped with the caviar. If you didn’t already know, each caviar and infused roe comes with three suggested ways to serve, or “Signature Bites” – traditional, classic and luxe.
The Estate Caviar’s rich, clean taste and creamy finish pairs well with potato latkes and sour cream. Like most great caviar, it tastes delicious on its own, but the combination of flavors and textures here is divine.
This dish is perfect as an hors d’oeuvre for a dinner party at home. Because they taste better served immediately, I would reserve this recipe for more intimate parties to save you some stress. Or forget the guests, find a private moment, and eat them all on your own like me. No judgement.
Potato Latkes with Sour Cream and Caviar (makes about one dozen)
Adapted from a recipe on the LA Times website
4 large yellow potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tsar Nicoulai Estate Caviar (about 2 ounces)
Parsley for additional garnish, optional
1. Grate the potatoes using a food processor or fine grater. Transfer shredded potatoes to a large bowl. The original recipe I used as a guide called for Russet potatoes, but I just love yellow potatoes. I found them to be a tad moist, so I kind of squeezed them a little in a paper towel before adding the rest of the ingredients.
2. Add onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt, and pepper to the potatoes. Mix well.
3. Heat a 1/8 inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using a large spoon, scoop batter onto hot skillet, and flatten latkes with the back of the spoon. Cook on 1 side just until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, then turn and cook the other side.
4. The recipe also said to turn once only. I have ZERO ability to do this. I always end up checking and flipping extra. I tried really hard this time to only flip once, but I would be lying if I said a few were not flipped two or three times. They still came out delicious.
5. Drain well on paper towels. Top with sour cream and caviar. Add a parsley leaf for some color if you’re feeling extra fancy.
This recipe makes about a dozen latkes. The amount will vary depending on how small or large you make them. Smaller is better for a dinner party hors d’oeuvre. Depending on how much you prefer on top, you probably want at least two ounces of caviar for the above recipe. You may want a more even potato to caviar ratio than I have pictured to really enjoy the flavor of the caviar. Either way - there’s always just a spoon for any extra.
To order Estate Caviar and enjoy this Traditional Signature Bite, click here.
Sarah, Caviar Concierge for Tsar Nicoulai, and I drive up to the Tsar Nicoulai sturgeon farm in Wilton, California, to check it out. As we peek over the edge of an aquafarm pool to say hello to a new generation of White Sturgeon, we listen to Aquaculture Harvester, Auggie, admire these interesting creatures. “They’re curious animals,” he tells us. “If you tap the side, they’ll come over to check you out.”
The rows of pools are home to different stages of sturgeon. Each sturgeon can be on the farm for upwards of eight years, making production of the caviar a more dedicated process. Especially since the fish are never given growth hormones. They, also, do not receive antibiotics and eat non-GMO fish feed. During the summer, natural aqua plants cool the fish. The plants also organically filter the pure well water that fills the tanks. Paired with the California sun and a natural ecosystem, a free range environment is achieved.
Just like in the facility in Concord, Tsar Nicoulai handles every aspect of producing caviar at the farm, from sexing the fish to testing and harvesting the eggs and smoking the meat. Auggie, whom we affectionately call the Willy Wonka of sturgeon, mentions that a local art teacher asked for sturgeon bladder for a class. Not only is Tsar Nicoulai a supporting member of the community, but we are also happy to find ways to use the entire fish. Nothing is wasted.
Auggie went to culinary school in New York, then had his own fish smoking business for a while. He now finds himself here dedicating his relevant experience and wisdom to the unique and innovative caviar producer that is Tsar Nicoulai. He’s a free spirit. An adventurer. A dreamer. A converted West Coaster with every “dude” and “bro.” He fits into the view around us at the farm like each patch of soil or blade of grass gently swaying in the soft breeze.
We tour the rest of the property, including the makings of a new smokehouse. At the edge of the farm there is a pooling of crystal clear water – demonstrating the success of the filtrating system. From the fish to the soil, Tsar Nicoulai captures the essence of farm-to-table caviar. It is cleaner, healthier, and happier. And you can taste the difference – “like terroir in wine,” Auggie says.
Auggie’s friendly rescue pit bull, Boston, leads the way as we continue. He dashes between newly planted mulberries, kumquats, and pomegranates. His owner pulls a ripe blood orange from a tree, peels off the rind to expose its deep, fresh color and hands Sarah and me pieces of the juicy fruit. The bright citrus flavor bursts in my mouth. Cloaked in the orange warmth of the shining sun, I am swept away and start to plan my escape from responsibility to come live here forever, instead.
At the end of our visit, Sarah and I suit up in waders and very ungracefully take turns climbing into a tank. We get to meet some eight-year-old sturgeon up close and even take a stroll with one around the pool. An adventure I didn’t even know was on my bucket list has been checked off.
Stay tuned for more exciting happenings, news, and stories from the sturgeon farm
Valentine’s Day approaches. Boxes of chocolates start to grab your attention at the store even though they have been slyly hanging out there since the day after Christmas. The pressure for the perfect day, of romance or joint boycott, builds. Love is in the air, they say. All the passionate, platonic, and crazy kinds of it.
These different kinds of love take nurturing. Thoughtfulness. Time. Effort.
Our infused Golden Whitefish roes are a result of similar labors of love.
In the past, surplus whitefish roe would be discarded. Select caviar houses, Tsar Nicolai included, began making infusions to liven up the roe and create a market for it. How many rom-coms do we see where someone reinvents or rediscovers themselves, gets the guy or girl back and lives happily ever after? Our Caviar Master, Monica, enhances the natural sweetness and brininess of Golden Whitefish roe with various natural and organic products creating perfect marriages of flavors.
Our Beet + Saffron Whitefish Roe is the perfect choice for your Valentine's Day dinner. It has a vibrant and gorgeous color with subtle and seductive flavors. It's bling on a plate (a happy alternative if you aren't gifting bling in a little black box).
We took a variation of the Beet + Saffron luxe signature bite as a first course for this Valentine's Day menu. We start with a scallop topped with the infused roe sitting prominently in the center of velvety cauliflower soup. It's simple yet thoughtful. Not over complicated but not boring. Just how a dream relationship would be.
Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallops, Lemon Oil and Caviar (Serves 6)
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2006)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, sliced
3 3/4 cups (1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces) cauliflower (from 1 large head)
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups whipping cream Coarse kosher sal
Freshly ground white pepper 1 leek (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
6 sea scallops, patted dry
1-2oz jar Tsar Nicoulai Beet + Saffron Gourmet Roe
6 teaspoons purchased lemon-infused grapeseed oil
Finely chopped fresh chives
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add cauliflower, broth, and cream. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer gently until cauliflower is tender, about 18 minutes.
- Puree soup in small batches in blender until smooth or use an immersion blender. Season soup with kosher salt and white pepper.
- To serve: Blanch leeks in small saucepan of boiling salted water 1 minute; drain. Place some of leek in center of each bowl. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in medium skillet over high heat. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Sear until brown and just opaque in center, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Place 1 scallop on leek in each bowl; top scallop with caviar. Ladle soup around scallop, drizzle with 1 teaspoon lemon oil, and sprinkle with chives.
Do ahead: soup can be made one day ahead, steps 1-3. Cool slightly. Cover and chill. Reheat in a saucepan before serving.
The first time I made a Valentine’s Day dinner for my then boyfriend, now husband, was during my senior year of college. Dinner was massive pork chops and dessert was chocolate fondue. I covered my on-campus apartment in hanging pink paper hearts. There is still one of them on our fridge.
Seven years of marriage and obsessing over food trends later, my Valentine’s Day dinners have gotten a little more sophisticated. I followed the cauliflower soup with a simple roasted rack of lamb and an herb and arugula salad with pickled onions and preserved lemons. Then finished off with chocolate covered strawberries that I shaped into a heart – an ode to the fondue of our original Valentine’s Day.
Make caviar a part of your love story. To order Beet + Saffron Whitefish Roe for your Valentine’s Day celebration, click here.
To re-create the rest of the menu, see recipes and notes below:
Roasted rack of lamb (serves 2-3)
I kind of winged it with directions on the package of lamb.
1.5 lb Rack of lamb
Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 425°F
- Season rack of lamb with salt, pepper and garlic
- Place on baking sheet or roasting pan and roast for about 18 minutes in the oven or until you achieve desired doneness (internal temperature of 145°F for medium rare)
- Let meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving
Herb Salad with Preserved Lemons and Pickled Red Onions (makes about 7 cups)
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2015)
If ever there was a salad described as sexy, this would be it. Though my husband says it reminds him of fields in camp, this insanely delicious dish is our new favorite.
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup sugar
½ preserved lemon, flesh removed, peel sliced into thin strips *
1 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup parsley leaves with tender stems
½ cup dill sprigs
3-4 cups of arugula
Olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and flaky sea salt (for serving)
- Place onion in a small heatproof bowl. Bring vinegar and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour over onion and let cool.
- Drain onion and place in a medium bowl; add preserved lemon, cilantro, mint, parsley, dill and arugula and toss to combine. Drizzle lightly with oil and lemon juice, season with salt, and toss again to coat.
*I make a cheater version by peeling the zest of a lemon with a vegetable peeler trying to avoid any pith, slicing very thinly and boiling in sugar, water and salt. Let cool before adding to the salad.
And so our blog finally begins!
We are thrilled to share with you the details of our sustainable, hand crafted, small batch caviar. Join us as we illustrate our new signature bites, discuss featured pairings, and keep you up to date with all the exciting things going on here at Tsar Nicoulai. As most of you know, since its beginnings in San Francisco, Tsar Nicoulai has evolved to be a favorite among top local and national chefs, caviar connoisseurs, and food enthusiasts alike. We are so proud of our products, not only for their superior quality and flavor, but for the commitment that has been made to produce caviar in an ethical and sustainable way (free of GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones and synthetic preservatives). Stay tuned for posts about our aquafarm and learn about the people and the practices that make Tsar Nicoulai stand out from the other brands. By starting this blog, we hope to bring a little more joie de vivre to your everyday in the form of caviar.
Our highly anticipated blog kick-off coincides with another highly anticipated kick-off– the one between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers that will begin Super Bowl 2016 on Sunday, February 7th, at Levi's Stadium in the San Francisco Bay Area. A game that is eagerly awaited by die-hard fans and disinterested significant others alike. We are especially excited about Super Bowl 50 because our Select caviar was chosen among the rest to be featured in the luxury suites at the game. The latest we heard, these suites were going for around $600,000. If you weren’t able to snag a ticket for one in time, don’t fret, you can recreate the experience at home.
Caviar and football parties may not be a common pairing, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one. Forget the helmet-shaped watermelon fruit salad bowl you saw on Pinterest – we’ve topped a traditional deviled egg with our Select caviar to make this elegant hors d'oeuvre. A dish that is approachable, yet absolutely decadent, easy to make, and quick to impress.
We kept this dish clean and simple so as not to overshadow the beautiful flavor of the caviar.
Deviled Eggs Topped with Caviar (Serves 4-6)
2.5 -3 tablespoons crème fraîche
Salt to taste
Tsar Nicoulai Select caviar to taste (plus some more, why not?)
One 1oz jar of caviar should be enough for 8 egg halves
My dad swears by his egg boiling method. You can find a million online, but this one works for me every time: Put eggs in a saucepan and fill with enough water to just cover the eggs. Set the heat on high, and put the timer on for 13 minutes.
- After 13 minutes, remove the eggs from heat and drain. Run under cold water for a few minutes to help with peeling.
- Peel the eggs then cut them in half and carefully scoop out the yolks into a bowl.
- Mash the yolks with a fork and then mix in crème fraîche and some salt to taste.
- Scoop the yolk mixture into a piping bag with round or star tip (a Ziploc bag will work too) and pipe back into the egg white halves.
- Top with a generous dollop of Select caviar.
- Serve on your finest football shaped platter. Kidding – any platter.
Don’t miss out on the luxury suite experience. To purchase our Select caviar for your football party, click here.
*Russian toast, “To Your Health!”