This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The salted roe of the Sturgeon, known as far back as in Shakespeare's day (who spoke of it as 'Caviare,' but not appreciated by the multitude), has been humorously styled "salt blackberry jam." Some persons deem this commodity delicious, whilst others maintain it to be intolerably nasty. Its parent Sturgeon abounds on the southern coast of Russia, being taken for its Caviare, chiefly at Astrachan. There are two kinds of the roe; one of a light-grey colour, and semi-liquid, called "fresh," of which the Germans are very fond, but which is little known in England; the other kind is of a darker hue, containing the eggs of the roe crushed, and strongly pressed together, so that much of the moisture has been squeezed away. Out of Russia, Caviare is a chaudfroid at table, being eaten cold on hot toast. In England it is served - quite as a mistake - at the end of dinner, when the appetites of the guests are already satisfied; but in Russia and France it is more wisely regarded as a hors d'ceuvre, always appropriate at luncheon, and usually acceptable as a whet before dinner. Caviare is correctly a prelude to a repast, and a stimulus to the appetite. At the end of dinner it is simply useless, and even mischievous. It should be moderately seasoned with cayenne pepper, and lemon juice.
The Russians are quite content to eat their Caviare on shoes of bread and butter. It is served on a side-table as a preliminary relish to a meal. Taken medicinally, Caviare, by reason of its abundant fish oil, has been found to occasionally rescue a patient when in the last stages of diabetes; for which disease fat is indeed a sheet anchor, because of its large sustaining powers, and because it never dietetically increases the formation of sugar in the liver.
Dr. Yeo has commended Caviare as a savoury for aged persons, who need some sort of condiment with their food, to promote digestion, and prevent flatulence. One of the best kinds in commerce is the Saxony variety, which is packed in linen, and is less salt than the others. There should be no smell to Caviare, though frequently an acid odour is discerned; the best sort is neutral, but the poorer kinds usually give an acid reaction to litmus (test) paper, containing also traces of free ammonia, some hydrogen sulphide, and free fatty acids. Logan relates in Joyful Russia, 1897, "It was the fresh Caviare that I revelled in, which was spread on bread or toast, at the Lakuska, or Russian snack luncheon, and was in either case laid on thick, being sprinkled over with chopped onion, and lemon." At. St. Petersburg it is eaten fresh as a hors d'ceuvre, from glass plates, with glass spoons. As to the Sturgeon (or royal fish) for food, its flesh in firmness, and dark red colour resembles beef, or veal, and is almost as savoury. Robert Lovell declared this fish cleareth the voice. It is called a stirrer, because it stirs up the mud by floundering at the bottom of the water.
The Sturgeon is killed in the Mediterranean by blows on the head with heavy clubs, and its spinal marrow is taken out, being then made into pates; the flesh may be boiled in shoes, or stuffed and roasted. This flesh cannot be cooked better than by being roasted thoroughly before the fire, whilst basted liberally with white wine; or the fish will make a delicious soup. Queen Elizabeth was very fond of Sturgeon in puddings, or pies. She ordered sturgeon-pie with rosemary-mead to be prepared for breakfast. Alexis Soyer taught persons of limited means to smuggle a slice of Sturgeon, with a few chopped shalots, beneath the piece of meat which was sent to the bakehouse, under cover of the potatoes which accompanied it. George the Second of England, who had a German chef as cook, liked everything very full flavoured, Sturgeon not too fresh being one of his favourite dishes.