The Paris issue

Our October issue is on sale - the Paris special. Grab your copy for all-things Parisian, plus ultimate French baking recipes and more.

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Seven ways to do dumplings

Dumplings may be bite-sized, but they pack a flavourful punch. Here are seven mouth-watering recipes, from Korean mandu to classic Chinese-style steamed dumplings.

Recipes with zucchini

Whether served raw with olive oil, grated with fresh herbs, or pan-fried in a pancake - zucchini is a must-have ingredient when it comes to spring cooking.

Best feta recipes

Feta's tang livens up all sorts of dishes, from beef shin rigatoni or blistered kale ribs to Greek-style roast lamb neck.

Cornersmith Annandale opens

Marrickville favourite Cornersmith opens a combined cafe-corner store with an alfresco sensibility.

Pickett's Deli & Rotisserie, Melbourne

Here’s Pickett’s inside running on the menu at Melbourne's new European-style eatery and wine bar Pickett's Deli & Rotisserie.

First look: Cirrus, Sydney

Ahead of opening Cirrus at Barangaroo, Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt talk us through their design inspirations and some of their favourite dishes.

Melbourne's best late-night bars

As the shutters come down in other Australian capitals, Melbourne's vibrant nightlife is just hitting it's stride. Michael Harden burns the midnight oil at the city's best late-night bars and diners.

Nougat, salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate tart

What's not to love about a Snickers bar? All the elements are here, but if you don't feel like making your own nougat, you could always scatter some diced nougat in the base of the tart instead. The caramel is dark, verging on bitter, while a good whack of salt cuts through some of the sweetness - extra roasted salted peanuts on top can only be a good thing.

Eggstravagance

The story of caviar is fascinating. Its mystique is entwined with Russian tsars and Iranian shahs, black market smuggling and the wild waters of the Caspian Sea, and the eggs themselves are extracted from a curious-looking dinosaur of a fish. Intrigue, it's safe to say, has long been an inseparable part of the pleasure of eating caviar.

I remember thinking, "oh, this is just so gourmet" when, as a teenager, I made my parents breakfast with "black caviar" from lumpfish on boiled eggs with mayonnaise from a tube. It was much later, in the kitchens of fine-dining restaurants, that I discovered what all the fuss was about. I remember a party thrown by Moët & Chandon where caviar was served from a tin on ice in a big Champagne bucket. We were handed mother-of-pearl spoons - metal spoons, the story goes, react with caviar and taint the flavour, so mother-of-pearl and horn cutlery are favourites of aficionados, though of course a ceramic spoon would be as effective, if not quite so dashing.

Caviar tastes quite different from salmon or trout eggs and other fish roes. It has wonderful richness and distinct complexity: mineral, salty, fishy, creamy. Caviar varies in flavour, texture, colour and size according to the species of sturgeon that has produced the eggs, and also according to the way it has been processed.

Because it has an intense flavour, caviar is best paired with delicate partners: creamed eggs, potatoes, sour cream - even simply toast or brioche. I especially like the traditional blini or potato rösti with maybe a little dollop of crème fraîche and just a hint of grated horseradish. It needs very little adornment in my opinion - just something to carry the flavours. I'd rather taste the caviar on its own than have it lost in something too complex.

Beluga caviar with scrambled eggs on a croissant with a glass of vintage Krug for breakfast is pretty close to my idea of heaven, but at the same time there are some serious question marks hanging over that pleasure in today's world. Certainly, there is nothing more decadent and luxurious than caviar. But should we still be eating it?

The vast bulk of the world's caviar comes from the Caspian Sea, a body of water bounded by Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The sturgeon was once common throughout the waters of the northern hemisphere, but it's a slow-growing species, and overfishing (for the meat of the fish as much as for its eggs) and pollution have drastically reduced its range and numbers. In its day the Soviet Union kept a very tight control over the valuable fishery and caviar production, keeping quality and numbers at a sustainable level. Following the break-up of the Soviet states, however, the region became a hotbed for illegal trade and in recent decades the stocks of sturgeon have fallen dramatically. In the 1970s up to 27,300 tonnes of sturgeon were caught each year, but in 2010 the catch quota is less than 1000 tonnes, and in recent years fishermen have struggled to come close to filling these drastically reduced quotas.

The sturgeon is thought not to have changed much in the past 200 million years. It's a curious-looking thing, this living fossil. It's a large fish, from 2 metres to sometimes 5.5 metres in length, but it takes years to reach reproductive maturity - eight to 10 years for sevruga sturgeon right up to 22 years for the rare and highly prized beluga. Usually the fish are killed before the eggs are extracted, but some caviar farms are removing the eggs surgically so that the fish may go on to produce more. This technique, however, is far from widespread; the flesh of the sturgeon remains a favourite delicacy in the countries surrounding the Caspian.

The process of extracting the eggs, then washing and salting the caviar, is a highly specialised one and requires great skill. The eggs, once salted, are left for a period of time to cure before being packed into tins and sold.

There have been various bans on the importation and sale of wild caviar, but illegal caviar smuggling is rife and very difficult to control. Many authorities say that to successfully replenish stocks there should be a complete global ban on the consumption of wild caviar. Beluga caviar has just returned to the global market after the countries on the Caspian Sea agreed to quotas of the wild-caught fish, but for us the good news is that farmed sturgeon is being produced with great success, particularly in China, the US, Italy France and Germany, and most fine-dining restaurants are using the sustainable farmed eggs. It's a good news story that, more than most, really does call for Champagne.

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