Is the price of caviar a curse that prevent sturgeon meat to be cooked as it deserves to be ?
Thirty years ago, the European Sturgeon was already on the brink of being extinct, even in the Gironde estuary, the last area where it was still rather abundant in the early twentieth century. A French research center decided to raise the endangered species. However, since they needed first to train the breeding methods on a easier fish, Siberian sturgeons were imported from USSR. Since fish farms were involved in the project, it was planned to make sturgeon raising profitable by selling the fish as a high-quality product, for instance to local famous restaurants; recipes were ordered from Michelin starred chefs.
Some attempts were even made to promote the cooking of sturgeon meat at home:
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This video comes from one of the most famous cooking TV programs in the 1990s: la Cuisine des Mousquetaires (Musketeers' Cooking) co-anchored by Maïté (Ordonez)and Micheline (Banzet). When this episode was recorded, in may 1993, the caviar production had just started the same year in a first fish farm, le Moulin de la Cassadote. The sturgeon beheaded and sliced ferociously by Maïté came from another fish farm from the same area south of Bordeaux (this partly explains why the fish is cooked with Saint Emillion "à la bordelaise"). The main aim of this episode was to explain how simple sturgeon cooking was: no bones, a firm flesh (texture and taste close to those of veal) and adaptable to many different recipes. This good side of the sturgeon was more recently explained by Cal Elliot, executive chef from Rye's restaurant (NYC) in a video from one of my favourite food blogs: Food. Curated.
But in France, fish farms soon gave up the idea to raise the sturgeon mostly for its meat: prices on the fish market were not as high as expected, and in the late 1990s, when caviar production was eventually mastered, the value of the black pearl made the meat a mere by-product. But it's an emabarassing one: to produce a kilogram of caviar, you need to kill a female sturgeon weighing almost ten times more. Moreover, males are killed when they are three or four years old: fish farms have to get rid of a huge quantity of fish. Filets have been exported to Russia by Sturgeon, the leader producer in France, but a good share of the fish slaughtered are used to... feed other fishes.
This is considered by some as a shame in the country whose cuisine made recently the World Heritage list. I's even more outrageous considering the long history of sturgeon recipes, dating back to the late middle ages, when the great fish was a meal for princes and kings. One of the first testimonies was published when modern cooking emerged from the medieval one thanks to the Italian influence.In its "Ouverture de cuisine", lancelot de Casteau, cook of the bishops-princes of Liege, listed a number of possibilities to trasform the flesh of the sturgeon as a meat, most of the time like veal.
to be continued......