Chef David Hawksworth likes caviar, so he’s happy to have a local source for his eponymous restaurant – and his own habit.
By Cinda Chavich
“I enjoy eating a lot of it,” admits the Vancouver chef, who also likes to cook with caviar — strewn across his beautiful plates of fresh halibut, dramatically punctuating bowls of creamy soup, or just served in a traditional caviar tin with crème fraiche, to scoop onto crisp potato blinis.
There was a time when Hawksworth had to give up his caviar cravings – endangered wild sturgeon and the ban on imported Caspian Sea caviar stopped him from serving it for nearly five years. But now there’s a sustainable Canadian source — farmed Northern Divine sturgeon caviar from B.C.’s Sunshine Coast.
“It’s the only one I’ve been buying,” says Hawksworth. “It’s right in our own backyard and it’s really, really good.”
Target Marine Hatcheries began raising white sturgeon in large, land-based tanks in Sechelt in 2000, and started harvesting caviar in 2012. Each 200-300-lb. mature fish produces 3-5 kg of caviar. All is certified organic, Ocean Wise and Sea Choice recommended so it’s on the best menus, even with prices ranging from $88 for 30 g to $4,320 for a 2-lb. tin.
This Canadian caviar is dark and glossy, with large pearls that have a buttery, almost briny, flavour.
“It has a nice ‘pop’ to it,” says Hawksworth. “I’ve tried others, from California and the east coast, and I think it’s the best so far.”
Champagne and caviar is the logical, luxurious match. But vodka is also a classic pairing. So a nice dry martini — especially one made with a rich potato vodka like Pemberton’s organic Schramm or Luksusowa from Poland — is the perfect cocktail to sip with caviar.
You might be surprised to learn that caviar was also once a popular partner to beer. In fact, in the late 1800s, when sturgeon were still abundant in our rivers, caviar was offered in pubs as a free, salty snack like peanuts, and most of the caviar consumed in Europe was from North America.
It was that caviar “boom” that led to overfishing of sturgeon in Canada and the U.S. The last of the large wild fish are still found in B.C.’s Fraser River, but are strictly protected. So farmed caviar is the future.
While caviar is still a rare indulgence, reserved for special occasions and meals at top restaurants, there’s no need to fear this farmed sturgeon.
“It’s something to try a couple of times a year,” says Hawksworth, “and it’s always best to eat a lot of it.”
Slow Cooked Halibut, Northern Divine Caviar, Crushed New Potatoes, Champagne Velouté
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes
4 pieces of halibut, 6 oz (160g) portion
2 tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter
2 tbsp (30 g) chives, finely sliced
12 new potatoes, boiled, peeled and crushed with EVOO – keep warm
2 oz (60 g) caviar
¾ cup (200 mL) Champagne Velouté (see recipe below)
4 baby fennel, cooked till soft, keep warm
1. Place the fish on to a buttered stainless steel tray, place a knob of butter onto each filet and season with salt. 2. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes at 160° C (325° F) – let rest five minutes, squeeze lemon over the halibut. 3. Mix the chives and potatoes together, mix with extra virgin olive oil and season. 4. Place the potatoes in the middle of a small bowl, and press into a small mould. 5. Divide the caviar on to each filet and place on top of the potato. 6. Froth the velouté and pour around. 7. Place the baby fennel next to the fish and serve.
2010 Tantalus Old Vine Riesling Natural Brut. Okanagan Valley, B.C.
1 large shallot, finely sliced
1 sprig of thyme
1 tbsp (15 ml) butter
¾ cup (200mL) sparkling wine
2 cups (500mL) fish stock
½ cup (125 mL) plus 2 tbsp (30 mL) whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 g) lemon juice
1. Sauté the shallot and thyme in butter without any colour till fully soft. 2. Add sparkling wine and reduce by 4/5. 3. Add fish stock and reduce by half. 4. Add cream and bring to a simmer, season with lemon juice and salt – strain and reserve.
This will keep for up to 5 days.
Sunchoke Velouté, Meyer Lemon, Caviar and Brioche
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 40 minutes
1/4 white onion, small dice
1/2 stick celery, small dice
1 garlic clove
6 tbsp (100 mL) extra virgin olive oil
6 sunchokes peeled and sliced
Pinch of cracked white pepper
Juice of one lemon
4 cups (1 L) chicken stock
¾ cup (200 mL) milk
6 tbsp (100 mL) cream
4 brioche fingers, toasted
Meyer lemon gel (recipe follows)
1. Sauté onions, celery, garlic in olive oil till opaque and soft (no colour). 2. Add sunchokes and white pepper, half the lemon juice – sauté 3 minutes. 3. Add chicken stock, milk and cream – simmer for 20 minutes. 4. Purée and pass though sieve, season with salt and lemon juice. 5. To serve, ladle velouté into four individual bowls. Squeeze three small dollops of lemon gel onto each toast, leaving space between to add a little caviar. Serve the toasts alongside the soup.
Meyer Lemon Gel
2 cups (500 mL) meyer lemon juice
2/3 cup (150 mL) simple syrup
1 tsp (5 mL) agar
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) locust bean gum
1. To make simple syrup, combine equal amounts sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat and cool. 2. Combine lemon juice and simple syrup and whisk. 3. Take ¾ cup (150 mL) of liquid and bring to a simmer. Add agar and gum, whisk frequently for 2 minutes. 4. Remove pot from heat and incorporate remaining liquid – whisk. 5. Pour liquid in stainless steel container. Once set, dice and purée at high speed and place in a squeeze bottle and reserve till needed.
2009 Benjamin Bridge Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs, Nova Scotia
Caviar blinis for one
This is the ultimate indulgence – a tin of crème fraiche, topped with caviar to scoop onto tiny potato pancakes with classic garnishes. At Hawksworth, a special tray holds the caviar and each of the condiments in individual compartments for service.
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped chives
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated egg white
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated egg yolk
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely minced shallot, washed
1 empty caviar tin
Northern Divine sturgeon caviar
6 Yukon gold blinis (recipe below)
2 lemon wedges, no seeds
1. Fill each compartment with a different condiment (or use tiny bowls): chives in one, egg whites in one, egg yolk in one, and shallots in one. 2. Mix the crème fraiche with a pinch of chives, salt, cayenne to taste. 3. Fill the empty caviar tin 4/5 full with the seasoned crème fraiche. Spoon the caviar on top and close the lid. Make blinis and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing on top.
NV Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Yukon Gold Blinis
¾ pound (310 g) Yukon gold potatoes, baked and passed through a fine sieve
2 to 3 tbsp (30 mL – 45 mL) crème fraiche
¼ cup (60 mL) sifted flour
1. Whisk ingredients together to combine well and keep warm. 2. Place mixture into a piping bag. 3. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat, and pipe small disks into the pan, each about an inch (3 cm) across. 4. Cook till golden, turn over and brown second side.