Caviar from Idaho? Yup, and it’s really really good. Leo Ray, owner of Fish Processors of Idaho is out to build a national market for Idaho caviar. From what I tasted at a gala “Martinis and Caviar” event in Sun Valley Idaho last week, he doesn’t have to try very hard. The caviar is amazingly smooth, well textured and has that nice little snap so many of us love as we bite into it. The fact that Leo Ray is quite the charmer and one of the hardest working men I know, doesn’t hurt either. I’d buy his caviar in a Nano second anywhere I saw it.
The 76-year-old has commercially raised rainbow trout, catfish and tilapia for over 40 years on farms in the Magic Valley, a region in south-central Idaho consisting of Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls Counties. It is chiefly associated with the agricultural region in the Snake River Plain located in the area. Why put a caviar business there? Ray says its, “The best water in the world is right here in Idaho for doing the job.” Leo is a hands-on kind of guy. He knows fish. It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to see him in the water, waders on, communing with his fish, encouraging them to do their best. From what I tasted, he’s been highly successful.
The caviar side of Ray’s business has been a long time coming. It started in 2000. This industry reminds me a lot of the Champagne business. You have to “sit” on the product for a number of years waiting for it to develop before it you can sell it. This takes patience, good product management and a whole lot of financial resources. To harvest the best caviar eggs, a fish company must wait for the sturgeon to be 10 to 15 years old. Tick, tick, tick. Ray calls his caviar his “401(k) plan.” Instead of investing in stocks, he’s putting his time, talent and treasure into sturgeon. Good for him, and yum for us.
Ray’s current production is 1000 pounds a year. He sells it to brokers for about $454.00 a pound. Plans to multiply his caviar production to as much as 3,000 pounds annually are in the works. I wish him well, he’s a heck of a guy providing jobs for many people and bringing attention to the quality and diversity of foods produced by Idaho’s farmers, ranchers and food producers.
Idaho is serious about the whole farm-to-fork concept. It’s culinary and wine scene is worth notice. In fact, Idaho itself is worthy of your vacation dollars. It’s a charmed place full of natural resources, friendly people and affordable fun. Next time you’re planning a vacation – think Idaho.
I had a good taste of Idaho for six full days. On one of those days, I had dinner at the Secretary of Agriculture’s home. Local Celeb Chef Dean Fuller was in charge of the menu. One of his yummiest dishes, the Idaho Caviar Tacos, showed up during the reception. The recipe can be found below or in the cookbook, LIVE ● EAT ● LOCAL ($25). The cookbook includes recipes submitted by some of the nearly 300 Idaho Preferred members (www.idahopreferred.com). It was commissioned to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Preferred program. It’s just one more good thing from Idaho. Enjoy!
Idaho Caviar Tacos
Chef Dean Fuller
Compliments of Idaho State Department of Agriculture
•1 large Idaho® Russet Burbank
•3 tablespoons soft cream cheese
•3 teaspoons local caviar or salmon roe
•4 sprigs fresh dill
•2 red radishes
•Olive oil as needed
1.Place the potato lengthwise on a flat surface and slice at a 45 degree angle, 3 thin slices, like a potato chip.
2.Immerse in boiling water or a steamer for 5 seconds to soften and make pliable, then set aside and let cool.
3.Next, fold up like a taco shell, and using tongs dip in 350°F oil until crisp. Option – spray with olive oil and bake in a 325°F oven until hard and golden brown. Set aside.
4.Make a V-cut in the remaining portion of the potato (see picture) to make the taco-style shell. This V cut will let the boat sit up right on the stand. Coat with olive oil and bake for 45 minutes at 400°F or fry in 350°F oil for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown . Set aside.
5.With a stick blender or hand whip, whip the cream cheese until soft. Then put in a pastry bag with a small round tip.
6.Slice a red radish very thin, cut into strips and immerse in ice water.
7.Take the taco shell-style potato boat in one hand, hold gently and apply the cream cheese into the bottom of the shell, ¾ of the way up.
8.Add one-third of the strips of radishes per shell.
9.Add t teaspoon of caviar or salmon roe to the center top of the shell.
10.Add 3 or 4 small sprigs of fresh dill. Place in the potato bases.