Caviar From Oklahoma? Strange But True!
Caviar was once so inexpensive and so common in the United States that it was served for free in saloons in the early 19th century. The salty fish roe was tasty and made the saloon patrons thirsty so that they would order more beer. Nowadays the food has been relegated back to the wealthier segments of the population. Much of the caviar available comes from Russia, but there is a new venue on the rise for caviar production -- Oklahoma.
It is hard to believe that the landlocked Midwest would be a place to be harvesting caviar, but the truth is often strange. Oklahoma Caviar used to refer a recipe for a sort of salad of corn, black beans, tomatoes, and hominy. Now it actually refers to the fishy delicacy sought by the upper crust of society. Instead of coming from the declining populations of sturgeon, the caviar from Oklahoma is coming from the paddlefish which inhabits freshwater rivers and lakes in the state.
It is a rather strange business deal that is actually run by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Paddlefish Research Center. They are in charge of issuing free fishing permits for those wishing to catch paddlefish. There is a caveat that leads to caviar however. The state picks up the fish, cleans and filets it for the fishermen, takes research samples, measures the length, weight, and age, and keeps the eggs from the females.
For legitimate fishermen they are happy with the deal -- for poachers, not so much. The paddlefish is often illegally poached by those who want to get a piece of the caviar action.
The caviar is sold throughout Europe and Japan as well as many other parts of the world. The facility has been known to process 15,000 pounds of the eggs. Some 70% of the caviar has already been sold to wholesalers in Japan for $135.00 a pound -- $1.4 million. That is a tidy profit to support the research and fund the department of wildlife. This saves money for the state taxpayers.
Paddlefish are large and enjoyed as a game fish by serious fishermen looking for a big catch. They can be up to 100 pounds. They have a distinctive appearance with a large, long flat snout. The snout, or rostrum is it is officially called, is used to detect the zooplankton on which the fish feed and acts as a stabilizer as the fish move through the water feeding with its mouth open.
Buyers of the Oklahoma caviar say that the caviar produced there is second to none. That is a pretty tall complement for the local product of a humble Midwestern state..