Counterfeit Caviar

Late in the day on Dec 30, I decided that I wanted to do something fun and special for New Year’s Eve.  We typically just stay in.  In ‘normal’ years that would be for one of the following reasons:  1. We are lazy 2. We aren’t proactive enough to make reservations before everything fills up 3. We worry about driving late at night in possible bad weather  4. We worry about sharing the roads with drunk people, especially late at night 5. We are generally a-social people who don’t really enjoy being around a lot of humans 6. We are lazy (oh, did I mention that already?)

This isn’t a ‘normal’ year – it’s a “pandemic” year, so I’ll call that reason #7 as to why we might not go out on New Year’s Eve.  To avoid suggesting we are lazy, lack proactivity or can’t drive at night, I will say that the reason we didn’t want to go out for a festive date around far too many crazy people , was because we were doing our civil duty and stayed home due to “the pandemic.”   

We live in a rural area.  That typically means we must try to thrive in a culinary desert. If we want to eat anything that really tickles our taste buds, we need to travel quite a distance – and that means both from a restaurant experience as well as to secure a decent grocery selection.  We had already decided to avoid traveling on New Year’s Eve, so I thought it would be exciting to create a spread of unique dishes and small plates, even if that simply seems strange when there were just two of us in attendance.  The reason we have a refrigerator is to house left-overs, right? I created my shopping list filled with items that I wasn’t quite certain I’d be able to find and Robert put forth his effort by tolerating my spontaneity and agreed to go shopping with me.

A bit after 5:00 PM, we took off for the Super Wal-Mart in Effingham, which is about 30 minutes away, because the “local” Wal-Mart (15 minutes away) is so small it doesn’t even carry the bare essentials at times.  Not to mention that it doesn’t have a liquor department, which wouldn’t normally be on my radar, but let’s face it, we were planning for a New Year’s Eve feast extraordinaire!

Caviar would not normally be on my shopping list.  However, I had a strong urge to create little crackers topped with cream cheese and a dollop of that briny, pop-in-your mouth, fishy delicacy.  I wasn’t sure I’d find it, but I hoped.  I didn’t expect there to be a fancy or expensive brand of caviar.  But, in the past, I have been able to find a small jar for a reason price at the local grocery store.  But, that store converted to a half food and half hardware establishment, so I didn’t even consider checking it out.

The Wal-Mart in Effingham was quite busy when we arrived around a quarter to six the evening prior to a holiday-designated New Year’s Eve day.  We made our way around the store gathering all the items on my list – or finding acceptable substitutions.  But, then we got to the line item “caviar.”  Our first stop was the canned fish section.  Nothing.  We checked the fresh fish section, which is a reason to travel the extra miles over to Effingham.  It’s far superior in selection than our local Vandalia Wal-Mart.  But, no caviar.   I thought there was a small chance we’d find it as a specialty item in the liquor store, which is its own shop within the main building.  But, before we checked out and made our way there to pick up a botte of of sparking wine for the next day’s midnight moment, I thought we might just go back and do a really good look in the canned fish section, one last time. 

TaDa!  Up on the top shelf, pushed back so it was impossible for me to see, Robert reached back and brought out a fairly substantial sized jar (within a box.) 

“Wow!”  I exclaimed, as he handed me the coveted item, “It says it’s imported from Norway!”  I was excited.

“What does it cost?” I asked.  Robert had already said it was four dollars-something, but I couldn’t believe he read the right price off the shelf.

“Forty dollars,” he replied and I pushed it back at him before he could even finish his sentence.

“Just kidding.  It’s four dollars, twenty-eight cents!”  Always the jokester. 

“No way.  This is way too big a jar, are you sure?”  I asked.

As he was scanning the shelf label, again, I read the label on the jar more carefully.

“Cavi-art.  Black seaweed pearls.   It’s vegan.  It’s not real, not even close.

But, as I contemplated the options, I thought that it might be worth giving it a try.  So, we tossed it in the cart.

The first thing I wanted to do as Robert brought in the bags from the car and piled them on the counter was to get a taste of that vegan caviar substitute.  If it wasn’t salty and it didn’t pop in my mouth, I was going to be very disappointed.  However, the meatless ‘meat’ market is pretty competitive now a days.  Perhaps, they have figured out a way to create a plant-based product that could deceive a normal-run-of-the-mill person like me, if not a caviar connoisseur. 

I tore off the box.  As I twisted off the gold colored lid, I hear the standard pop of the jar releasing pressure.  Sadly, that was the only pop I’d experience.  The little “pearls” were little.  That’s fortunate, because they did not pop nor did they release any flavor-of-the-ocean, briny goodness.  In fact, they weren’t salty at all. 

“Oh well, it’s a bust.  At least we only wasted four bucks,” I said as I handed a small sample to Robert.

Robert is not known for his culinary diversity.  However, he has been a good student over the past twenty years as I have encouraged him to try new foods.  He’s still an absolute “no” to liver and tripe.   And, I agree with him regarding the latter.

“Why don’t you add some fish sauce?”  he suggested as he handed the spoon back to me.

This was truly a “mind-blown” moment for me since Robert wouldn’t normally even want to know I had sprinkled a few shots of the stuff in an Asian dish I cooked.  But, he was spot on.  That was a great suggestion as a possible improvement of the product which referred to itself as “art” so I couldn’t really blame them for its complete lack of taste.

Overnight, the Caviart marinated in real fish sauce, which clearly isn’t vegan, but that’s probably why it was likely to work!

I’m happy to say that Robert’s “hack” for vegan caviar was successful.  Adding fish sauce solved the product’s flavor deficit almost sufficiently enough that I could overlook the fact that the “black seaweed pearls” didn’t burst in my mouth with salty goodness.

In a divot of onion and chive cream cheese (which I used both to augment the flavor deficit AND because there’s a cream cheese shortage – did you know? – and there wasn’t any plain cream cheese at the store!), the Caviart counterfeit caviar was quite tasty. I’m not sure how many people would really be interested in this hack – which obliterates the vegan-ness of a vegan product – still, I’m happy to share! Happy New Year!

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