Tvorog and the Taming of the Salt
Writers note: For a quick version, simply pair our Smoked Caviar with Ruffles brand potato chips and a good brand of store bought Creme Fraiche. If you have a little time to spend here, you can get the full story on this dish below.
A salt rush in the mouth is a thing of beauty. High-salt foods command every molecule of water in the body to head toward your mouth, leaving a power vacuum in the rest of your person, and a slight sensation of vertigo in the head. The wild, delicious twang of a strong salt pucker tricks the stomach into believing itself full. The appetite vanishes.
If you consume enough salt, the inside of your mouth will become swollen and tender, like a marinated brisket. The tongue becomes a small, wiggling ham. A good friend of mine lived entirely on salty dry prosciutto, bread, and beer for a week while opening a restaurant in a remote part of southern Croatia. As he tells it, his mouth wasn’t right for a week after he abandoned this champion’s diet. Salt is a powerful mineral. It transforms things, and sometimes it transforms lives. How?
Well, intentionally and regularly consuming lots of salt is not at all good for your body. But it’s fun once in a while. It reminds you that you’re alive, even if not for much longer.
My favorite salt delivery mechanism just might be fish eggs. I put herring eggs on every single thing I eat during roe harvest. Herring roe are so tiny that the popping of the eggs between the teeth is more like a vegetable crunch, because you're eating hundreds of eggs at a time.
With larger fish eggs, such as those of our dear salmon, the pop is more liquid, nuanced and satisfying. The suddenness of the gentle, liquid ‘splosion of a salmon egg in the mouth pumps the briny flavor to the taste buds with added urgency. Salmon caviar on pilot bread is a pretty common food configuration in this wild part of the world.
If you didn’t know, pilot bread (a.k.a. hard tack, sea biscuit, sheet iron and others) is the Alaskan hors d'oeuvre vehicle of choice. Being, essentially, a bland-but-edible board of nutrition made from flour, pilot bread goes with everything. But when there’s no pilot bread around, you can serve salmon caviar on a nearby ridged potato chip. If that’s what you have, then do it. This is the Alaska way. But before you do it, please get yourself acquainted with managing a salt rush, because things will start happening to you when you eat caviar on a potato chip.
Yes, squelching salt in food can be achieved in a few ways. If you’ve ever quaffed a tequila shot with lime and salt, then you know that salt and acidity quiet the fury of strong spirits in the mouth, bringing balance to the palate. As such, acid and strong spirits bring balance to salt. Fat also helps tame a wild salt lick. Consider these things when you decide on a spread or condiment for your salmon caviar potato chips.
I somehow ended up liking our own smoked salmon caviar on ridged potato chips with a tart, full-fat, unsalted Russian tvorog farmer’s cheese, plus an undisclosable amount of frozen vodka. Tvorog is an extremely versatile fresh cheese. You can certainly buy it if you can find it near you, but it won’t be nearly as good as homemade. Trust me. Not only does homemade tvorog provide fat and acidity to balance the salt in dangerously salty snacks, but also a sweet, delicate, dairy perfume when it’s just made. Ahhh! Smell that dairy air!
Tvorog (Russian Farmer’s Cheese)
1 gallon whole milk
1 quart buttermilk
1 pint heavy cream
2 tbsp white vinegar
In a large pot, heat the milk and cream very slowly to 180 F, then turn off the stove. Introduce the buttermilk and vinegar with a whisk, stirring until curds form. Allow the pot to rest unperturbed for 15 minutes.
Line the inside of a large colander with cheese cloth, and place it over a large mixing bowl. Plunge the whisk down into the curd a few times to break it up, then ladle all of it into the colander and allow the whey to drain out. If you place the bowl in a high place, then gravity will help ferry the whey away. Save the whey for soup!
Bring the corners and edges of the cheesecloth up and around the curd, squeezing ever so gently. Allow this warm bundle to rest for about half an hour, and squeeze again. You can also place the bundle of curd between two cutting boards and place a weight on the top board to express the whey from the curd.
Crumble the firmed cheese into smaller curds. You can salt it at this point, but if you wish to use it to balance salty flavors, such as salmon caviar and potato chips, then consider not salting it at all.
The final texture is your call too, but I like a spreadable consistency instead of curds, because it’s versatile and doesn’t roll. Simply whiz it up in your favorite food processor, chill it in the fridge for about half an hour, and then you will have fresh, spreadable, dairy perfection.
All that’s left for you to do is slather a potato chip with this tart, creamy business, then spoon or tweeze a bit of smoked salmon caviar thereupon. No one can eat just one of these, so you should have a frozen bottle of crisp ‘n clean Siberian vodka ready to balance the salt-splosions that are on the way. I’m somewhat partial to Mamont and Beluga Noble, but, hey: You do you.