Caviar Is Having a Moment Across Delaware’s Food Scene

Farm-raised varieties of fish roe have made this delicacy mainstream.

Like Champagne, fresh truffles and foie gras, caviar is a symbol of luxury, taste and prestige. But the tiny spheres with fresh flavor are no longer limited to one-percenters. TikTok influencers have turned caviar into a trendy snack, which has upped its consumer appeal.

“For the most part, caviar sells the best during the holidays,” acknowledges Danielle Hicks, deli manager at Janssen’s Market in Greenville, which carries seven types of caviar. “But last summer, people asked for it—the demand has increased.”

Andrew Cini agrees. “The number of places where you can get really good caviar has expanded,” says the chef de cuisine at The Brandywine Restaurant in Wilmington. “It’s more readily available at a price point that is cost-effective for restaurants; we can find ways to use it creatively without breaking the bank.”

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Bill Hoffman of The House of William & Merry in Hockessin often uses caviar and roe to highlight his picture-perfect dishes. Wild sockeye salmon tartare with marinated cucumbers, smoked trout roe, daikon, sea bean and bronze fennel.
Bill Hoffman of The House of William & Merry in Hockessin often uses caviar and roe to highlight his picture-perfect dishes. Wild sockeye salmon tartare with marinated cucumbers, smoked trout roe, daikon, sea bean and bronze fennel. Photo by Bill Hoffman.

From wild to farm-raised

Caviar is the salt-cured eggs (roe) from the sturgeon family, once plentiful in Russia, Europe, Asia and North America. There are more than 25 species of the ancient fish, and, like oysters, each has a flavor profile.

“I love it; I’ve always been addicted to caviar,” says Chef Bill Hoffman of The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. “You’ll see a caviar course at almost every Michelin-star restaurant. I love its umami and buttery quality—it’s a treat.”

For generations, the most desired types were beluga, osetra (also spelled ossetra) and sevruga from the Caspian Sea. Because of overfishing, the value skyrocketed and prices soared higher when some species landed on the endangered list. Indeed, many countries banned caviar harvested from these waters.

Enter farm-raised sturgeon, which has transformed the industry. Hoffman buys caviar from California farms with sustainable practices. “I don’t purchase caviar that will affect the wild sturgeon,” he says.

Snuff Mill Restaurant, Butchery & Wine Bar has a line of caviar from California-based Regiis Ova Caviar Company, founded by Chef Thomas Keller and Shaoching Bishop, the former CEO of Sterling Caviar and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. Regiis sources products from farms worldwide. Snuff Mill’s new sibling, The Brandywine Restaurant, also features their offerings.

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At The Brandywine Restaurant in Wilmington, Chef Andrew Cini serves Regiis Ova’s golden osetra caviar with a twist. Accompaniments include French onion dip, shallots, chives, cucumber chaat and house-made rye crackers.
At The Brandywine Restaurant in Wilmington, Chef Andrew Cini serves Regiis Ova’s golden osetra caviar with a twist. Accompaniments include French onion dip, shallots, chives, cucumber chaat and house-made rye crackers. Photo by Becca Mathias.

At Bardea Steak and Bardea Food & Drink, Chef Antimo DiMeo uses roe from American paddlefish, closely related to sturgeon, royal white sturgeon and the fast-growing American hackleback. “We can keep it affordable and approachable,” he says. For instance, a bite of Nashville hot chicken topped with paddlefish caviar is $20. If DiMeo used osetra, the price might top $50 for the same snack, he says.

From full course to finishing touch

Putting caviar on chicken might seem odd to those accustomed to enjoying it with blinis, small Eastern European pancakes. At Red Square in Rehoboth Beach, an ounce of osetra comes with blini, toast points and crème fraîche.

But at The Brandywine Restaurant, the classic presentation includes house-made rye crackers, diced shallots, a chiffonade of chives and cucumber. French dip replaces the usual crème fraîche.

You’d expect modern chefs to take liberties. For instance, Drift in Rehoboth Beach serves hackleback caviar with miso-buttermilk pancakes, blood orange syrup, chives and smoked crème fraîche. “It’s a fun, unusual way to eat caviar,” says Chef Tom Wiswell.

Tom Wiswell of Drift in Rehoboth Beach demonstrates three ways he uses caviar and roe. From left: New Bedford scallop crudo with satsuma mandarins, pickled banana peppers, grated bottarga (cured fish roe sac) and fried capers; savory miso-buttermilk pancakes with caviar, blood orange syrup, smoked crème fraîche and chives; and bluefin tuna tartare with avocado, ginger-lime vinaigrette and an addition of Petrossian caviar.
Tom Wiswell of Drift in Rehoboth Beach demonstrates three ways he uses caviar and roe. From left: New Bedford scallop crudo with satsuma mandarins, pickled banana peppers, grated bottarga (cured fish roe sac) and fried capers; savory miso-buttermilk pancakes with caviar, blood orange syrup, smoked crème fraîche and chives; and bluefin tuna tartare with avocado, ginger-lime vinaigrette and an addition of Petrossian caviar. Photo by Maria Deforrest.

Sometimes, a simple approach reaps tasty rewards. Just ask Ed Herr, CEO of Herr’s, who puts a dollop of caviar on warm, fresh potato chips. Get bougie with Bar Reverie house-made chips, topped with Maison Petrossian’s Royal Ossetra Caviar for $70.

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Similarly, the humble deviled egg becomes haute cuisine with a spoonful of caviar. “Eggs and caviar love each other—it’s one of those classic things,” Hoffman says. Caviar also complements oysters, and it’s an optional addition for the oysters served this month in Hamilton on Main’s Champagne pop-up bar, located on the Newark restaurant’s second floor.

As is the case with DiMeo’s Nashville hot chicken, caviar can also serve as the final touch. “We’ve been using it as a replacement for finishing salt—anywhere we want to add a burst of oceanic flavor,” DiMeo says.

For example, caviar’s briny taste accents the mild jumbo lump crab and lemon beurre blanc in Le Cavalier’s gnocchi Parisienne. (The downtown Wilmington restaurant gnocchi is made with a choux pastry instead of potatoes.)

A pop of flavor

Only sturgeon eggs are caviar, but other fish roe is also gaining ground. Tobiko, flying fish roe, is a sushi staple that is not limited to Japanese cuisine. “I use it all the time,” Hoffman says. Flavor infusions include red pepper, wasabi, squid ink and citrus. Wiswell has used tobiko flavored with yuzu juice.

Hoffman buys trout roe from Montana, which can come smoked. Wiswell is also a fan. “We use trout roe in a lot of things—fold it into sauces, garnish our crudos.”

Salmon roe is fishier than most, which suits the right dish. For instance, The Brandywine Restaurant adds it to salmon tartine—grilled rye bread with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, crispy fried capers and thinly sliced red onion.

No matter the roe, balance is essential.

“If you put a bunch of truffles on top, you’re just going to taste truffles,” Hoffman explains. “You’re defeating the purpose of using it. But when you get it right, it can be a luxurious experience.”

Related: This Delaware Town Is the Best for Thanksgiving Fishing

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