Whitefish caviar and blinis - Happy New Year


Blini with caviar dip

The best way in my opinion to enjoy fish roe is by mixing it with finely chopped onion, sour cream and fresh dill. A tiny grating of lemon zest, splash of lemon juice, sprinkling of blackpepper or lemon pepper might not hurt, but are not necessary. You don't want to mess with the beautiful taste of the roe itself.

We don't actually have it that often with husband, I always have it visiting my parents in Finland, where we usually eat it with blinis as a light supper and have the left over dip at breakfast next morning with toasted bread. They like it on white toast which is more traditional and accepted, I like it on sourdough rye bread which some think is too strong for the delicate taste of roe, but, well, I don't. And it's actually not that delicate, it's bloody fishy and combined with raw onion it can very well take a bit of sourdough bread.

With husband it's usually just Christmas time I tend to do it. I am not sure why. Maybe my New Year's resolution will be to eat more roe. I've never really made many resolutions, but this might be one to go with. More roe. And also maybe the simplicity theme touched upon in my recent hummus post. When cooking I shouldn't always chuck in all possible ingredients that might somehow fit the dish, but think about what is the essence of the dish and the main ingredient and only surround it with what it absolutely needs to make it shine. But that sounds a bit boring, so I think as New Year's resolutions go I will go with Eat More Roe.

Canadian whitefish roe with sour cream, onion and fresh dill

My favourite is vendace roe, these beautiful small eggs are just divine. So what about the famous Russian caviar, you may ask! I haven't had enough of this black sturgeon roe to say whether it is as special as people claim or whether it is a bit of an emperor's new clothes kind of a thing where silly people pay a fortune for a mother-of-pearl spoonful of something that is no more special than the easily available everyday equivalent. I think I had caviar once on a business trip to Moscow in mid 90's but at the time I was more interested in the vodka, so I may now have to invest in some just for research purposes as a serious food blogger. But I have heard it mentioned that Finnish vendace, burbot and whitefish roe are actually better than caviar. Admittedly most of this anecdotal evidence comes from websites selling Finnish fish eggs. But there is also historical factual evidence to prove that it takes 10 Russian sturgeon eggs to beat one Finnish freshwater fish egg.

Vendace roe is not possible to come by here in UK. Interestingly, assuming you are as into the topic of fish as I am, there are some vendace in a couple of lakes in the UK, relics of the last ice age, or rather their descendants, but they are very much fighting on the brink of local extinction so neither them or their eggs make it to the supermarket fish counters. In Finland vendace is plentiful and my parents' local fisher guy, will often have some in his car boot when he does the rounds around the village selling his morning's catch. As a member of the salmon family vendace is a fatty fish and superbly tasty panfried or smoked.

The other roe favourite of mine comes from vendace's larger cousin the European whitefish. Also not easily found here, although fascinatingly similar to vendace there are some of these silvery guys flapping about in the British waters, but again very much endangered alas. Canada exports a lot of whitefish roe, I have bought it in Finland, so I don't see why it couldn't make its way here. I have seen many Canadian people here. I lived with two in a flatshare in Stratford in 2003.

Of course in Finland there is lots of indigenous whitefish roe since wild whitefish is quite common in Finnish lakes and it's also farmed nowadays. You can easily find the fish and the eggs in the better supermarkets. Another impartial Finnish website said Finnish whitefish roe is much better than Canadian. And I'm too patriotic to argue against this, but I will say that the Canadian roe from lake Erie whitefish is very good also.

So for this New Year's Day brunch we had some well-travelled Canadian whitefish roe with shop bought blinis. These are not real blinis of course, but almost like little tasteless pancakes. I couldn't face making them from scratch, I didn't have buckwheat flour and we had been out celebrating New Year till 5am. Pretty good going for two old farts.

We had a fantastic time drinking prosecco (gone are the pretentious pre-mortgage champagne days) wondering why pretty young people would wear such awful unflattering clothes and so much make up, whether the ladies footwear was very sensible - it was a bit nippy outside!, and if they all were actually old enough to be out without their parents that late. Also at one point in the ladies toilets three very lovely looking (although a bit too made-up and self tanned) young girls were taking a pouty selfie and exclaiming what bad light it was and how awful they all looked. I just smiled at them benevolently like the fairy godmother that Cinderella gives the bowl of milk to (before the godmother's transformation into the glamorous Helena Bonham-Carter),  patted some powder between the folds below my eyes (still not very Helena B-C) and thought to myself that there will come a time when any light is bad light. But mercifully the eyesight starts failing at the same time with your face so you don't see the entire catastrophe, otherwise you might never leave your house again.

Canadian whitefish roe and onion

A plate of blinis, whitefish roe dip and smoked salmon

Next time I think I will make the blinis myself, these shop bought ones are no good. They perform faultlessly as vessels to transport the roe from plate to mouth, but real blinis actually add to the taste equation. My sister who always outdoes me in the cooking efforts - like the other day when I was very proud of my granary loaf, she'd done half a dozen sourdough rye breads with an over 100 year old starter which she got from a work colleague (apparently I can have some of the starter next time I visit) or when I'd done a beautiful and delicious salmon coulibiac with home-made quark pastry, she had done a fucking Kalakukko (an eastern Finnish traditional delicacy of fish baked in a loaf of sourdough rye bread obviously made from scratch with an ancient starter) - she was serving the same New Year's brunch to her husband, but needless to say with fresh home-made blinis. So next time I will make a bit more of an effort and make the blimming blinis.

A caviar dip with whitefish roe with sour cream, onion and fresh dill

Sour cream caviar dip

100g fish roe
Around 100ml (3 heaped tbsp) sour cream
Third / half a small brown onion (you could use red onion or shallot for milder onion taste, but I prefer it stronger)
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
(Usually the roe is already well salted for preservation purposes, but check the taste and add salt if necessary)

Mix all ingredients, this is not exact science, the amounts are a suggestions, I normally just go with gut feeling, add a bit more sour cream if if feels like it needs it etc.

The dip is good to eat immediately, but benefits from letting it sit in the fridge a couple of hours so the flavours blend and develop, the onion also looses some of its sharpness. Serve with toasted bread or blinis.

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