Hot Buttered Crumpets with Pressed Caviar

My Russian uncle used to tell me about his time in the Imperial Navy eating caviar. At the entrance to the officers’ mess was a huge basket of bread and a 15-kilo wood cask filled with caviar. He thought he had landed in heaven, and every time he went in or out he would swipe a piece of the bread in the caviar. As in all good things passing, after a few months he couldn’t stand the sight of a fish egg. But at the bottom of each barrel was something that revived his flagging appetite: the payusnaya ikra, or caviar “pressed” under the weight of the caviar on top of it. The bottom-layer caviar was concentrated in every respect, with more protein, fat, salt, and calories than other caviar, and certainly more intense flavor—so much more that many people came to prefer it to the fresh.

When I was in college, payusnaya was the only kind of caviar I could afford, and I developed a real taste for it, finding that its “jammy” texture and concentrated flavors cry out for potatoes, crumpets, or English muffins.

Caviar in small quantities is a nasty tease, so always buy as much as you can afford.

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Ingredients

  • 4 crumpets
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • ½ pound pressed caviar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 lemon wedges

Method

Toast the crumpets and butter them generously. Spread the caviar on the crumpets, sprinkle with the pepper, and serve with lemon wedges.

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