FISHY BUSI­NESS

A Chi­nese caviar farm has be­come a prom­i­nent player in the global gourmet busi­ness, pro­duc­ing five kinds of roe for din­ers with a taste for lux­ury. re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

When Por­tuguese chef Deivid Paiva goes to the mar­kets that sup­ply his restau­rant, he usu­ally doesn’t come back with his white tu­nic s meared with blood.

But Paiva’s re­cent mar­ket visit is noth­ing or­di­nary: The newly ar­rived chef who just took over the kitchen at Bei­jing’s Grill 79 is check­ing out the stur­geon at China’s big­gest caviar pro­duc­tion cen­ter. Stur­geon are pre­his­toric gi­ants that have evolved from the Tri­as­sic era some 245 to 208 mil­lion years ago. The shark­like crea­tures can live for a cen­tury and weigh 1,000 kilo­grams. At this fish farm, the late-ma­tur­ing fish are nur­tured from seven to 15 years, de­pend­ing on the species, be­fore they are har­vested for their culi­nary black gold.

A small group of food writ­ers joins Paiva and his boss, ex­ec­u­tive chef John­ston Ang from the China World Sum­mit Wing ho­tel, to visit Hangzhou Qian­daohu Xun­long Sci-tech Com­pany at Qian­dao Lake (Thou­sand Is­land Lake) in Quzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince. In that vast man­made lake de­vel­oped for hy­dro power, the com­pany says it pro­duces 60 tons of fish roe an­nu­ally — about 30 per­cent of the global caviar busi­ness.

Paiva can’t re­sist a hands-on en­counter, wrestling a young stur­geon out of a net for a close look at the fear­some-look­ing fish. By the time he re­leased the crea­ture a few min­utes later — stur­geon can be out of wa­ter for about 15 min­utes with no ill ef­fects — his coat was smeared with red. The chef was un­hurt; the bloody marks came from su­per­fi­cial scratches on the fish that farm man­agers said would quickly heal.

The fish must tol­er­ate a cer­tain amount of han­dling. Nur­tured in pens in the fresh­wa­ter lake, the crea­tures must be moved around oc­ca­sion­ally — to warmer or cooler wa­ter — as weather changes. Stur­geon find their way to wa­ter that feels right nat­u­rally in the wild, but farmed fish need some hu­man as­sis­tance.

When the stur­geon are about 6 years old, their sex be­comes ap­par­ent. Fe­males are sep­a­rated and nur­tured for up to nine more years, while the males are des­tined to be­come fish soup or fish meal.

The com­pany raises five species of stur­geon, each pro­duc­ing caviar with a dif­fer­ent fla­vor and mar­ket. Since it was founded in 2003, Kaluga Queen has es­tab­lished an in­ter­na­tional-stan­dard pro­duc­tion cen­ter, based on Rus­sian and Ira­nian tech­nique, that has been cer­ti­fied by qual­ity-con­trol agen­cies around the world.

The com­pany was cho­sen to serve caviar at this year’s G20 sum­mit in Hangzhou. You don’t get in­vited to place your caviar in front of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, whose coun­try is the world’s big­gest con­sumer of caviar, un­less you are at the top of your game.

At the farm, once the fish start pro­duc­ing roe, they make a lot of it — the car­casses seem al­most hol­low once the fish eggs are carved out in a very sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure. The face-masked work­ers have it down pat: It takes a lit­tle more than a minute from the first in­ci­sion un­til the empty car­cass glides away on a con­veyor belt, mak­ing way for the next bounty of fresh roe.

Most in our group are sur- prised to learn that fresh stur­geon caviar is only slightly salty: The fa­mil­iar saline taste comes from pack­ing the har­vested fish eggs in salt for sev­eral weeks of cur­ing.

While the group’s first day on the wa­ters of the 573 square km lake was all about fish, Day 2 was all about caviar. Af­ter a demon­stra­tion of har­vest­ing to cur­ing in the pro­cess­ing plant, a sump­tu­ous lun­cheon was pre­pared by the two Shangri-La chefs. The tast­ing be­gan with nib­bles of each of the five caviar prod­ucts, served with glasses of prosecco.

“You need that acid­ity and that fresh­ness to ac­com­pany caviar — like you do with oys­ters,” says chef Ang.

Af­ter the caviar tast­ing, the for­mal lunch in­cludes an Alaskan king crab roll high­lighted with three dol­lops of caviar on top, pre­sented with a col­or­ful salad to make the plate a vis­ual treat. The dish is fea­tured on Pavia’s new menu at Grill 79, the Western restau­rant in the China World Sum­mit Wing in Bei­jing.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the fin­ished caviar goes to the ex­port mar­ket — Rus­sia, France, Ger­many and else­where — and dif­fer­ent coun­tries have their pre­ferred tastes. Some species pro­duce caviar with a denser, chewier tex­ture; one has a dis­tinctly nutty taste, another is more but­tery; yet another re­tains fresh­ness even af­ter cur­ing.

Con­tact the writer at michaelpeters@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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