This post is semi-sponsored by T’Lur Caviar, a caviar farm in Malaysia, also the first makers of “tropical caviar”—caviar grown under tropical conditions, with Malaysia’s local aquaculture techniques.
I say semi-sponsored because I did not gain anything monetarily out of this, I just got given some caviar to test out, LOL. But I wanted to be totally transparent about the process as it’s the first time I’ve explicitly featured a product in a post. And though I’ve been approached to do reviews of products or places, I’ve shied away from any sort of sponsored content because they don’t really fit into what this blog is about, plus I’ve never been much of a fan of said products anyway… until now.
Honestly, I’m still baffled that the guys at T’Lur managed to cultivate a true blue Malaysian caviar that’s comparable to the best caviars out the in the world. Crazy. If you want to know more about their caviar, they’ve also been guests on the Breaking Bread show. (You can listen to the episode here.) I admit their caviar don’t come cheap (though hopefully the price will come down with time), but if you do have some dough to spare, it’s a great local business to splurge on and support! So when life gives you caviar, make… appam?
I’ve always found it curious that caviar is classically paired with the plainest things. In Russia, the heartland of caviar, sturgeon roe was heaped onto toast and plain blinis (mini-pancakes), with nothing more than a smidge of sour cream to bind the two together. The French then took caviar into haute cuisine, but served it in much of the same, plain fashion, swapping out the blinis for thin slices of baguette, sometimes with a fried quail egg in between. And though the the modernisation of food systems and the mingling of food cultures in the past few decades have seen the application of caviar expand into luxurious seafood dishes, umami-packed amuse-bouches, or even to top fried chicken, the purists still argue that caviar should be had on its own or, if you must have a vessel to have it on, with plain bread.
I guess there’s a sensibility to that. You want to show off and luxuriate in the full flavour of the caviar, so you don’t want other strong flavours clouding your palate and outshining the briny butteriness of the caviar. So you have it on a plain carb, essentially using it as an instrument to shovel more caviar into your mouth.
So when Shaun from T’Lur gave me some caviar, I thought I’d play with the idea of this pairing simplicity. (Though of course if you’ve been following this blog long enough, you’d know there’s gonna be some weird Asian fusion involved.) So what plain, carb-y thing did I pair it with? An appam!
Appams (also called hoppers) are a common carb in Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. It’s made from a coconut milk and rice batter that’s fermented with yeast for several hours before being cooked in a appam pan (sometimes called a tava). Appams are traditionally eaten with stews and dahls and the glorious panoply of Indian curries, but in this case, I messed around with using the appam itself as a base for the salty umami of caviar.
The yeasty tang of the appam itself played the part of sour cream in the classic blini-caviar-and-sour-cream pairing, and I took inspiration from the classic fish-egg-on-quail-egg pairing and cracked an egg into the middle of the appam, and threw in a bit of chives for a background allium. All in all, there’s nothing too overpowering in the dish, so the caviar comes through strong, just like how the purists proselytise.
Plus, since the caviar is tropical, it’d only be right to give it a home in a tropical dish.
Caviar Appam (caviar totally optional)
Makes 6-8 appams
200g rice flour
480g coconut milk
2 tablespoons ghee, or vegetable oil
8 eggs, one for each appam
1 tin of caviar, totally optional but goes well with it!
1 small bunch chives, sliced thinly
Wash the rice 3-4 times to rinse off the excess starch. Then, place the rice in a pot with equal parts water, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until fluffy and cooked through. (Alternatively, you could use a rice cooker.) When the rice is done, transfer it to a blender together with the 120ml of water, and blend on high speed for about a minute, until it turns into a smooth, thick paste.
In a bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water, then add the yeast to the sweetened water. Let it sit for 5 minutes until it turns bubbly.
In a large bowl, sift together the rice flour, sugar, and salt. To this, add in the coconut milk, the yeast, and the blended rice and whisk until a smooth batter forms.
Cover the bowl containing the batter with a cloth, and leave it at room temperature to proof until it doubles in size. The timing will vary depending on your climate, but it’ll take at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours, and I know some people leave it to proof overnight too. (I found the sweet spot to be around 3 hours, but that might be in part because of the hot and humid Malaysian climate.)
When the batter has proofed, ready a non-stick appam pan or a wok (I used the latter). Heat the pan over high heat, and oil it well with ghee. (You can use a kitchen towel to rub ghee over the pan.) Pour in a ladle of batter (~120g) into the centre of the pan. Then, lifting the pan, gently swirl the batter around the pan to get the appam to the desired size. Crack an egg into the middle of the appam, then cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for 3-4 minutes over low heat. The appam is done when the edges are golden brown and the egg whites are just cooked. Release the appam from the pan by going around the edges using a spatula or a small knife, and transfer it to a plate. Repeat for the rest of the batter.
Top the appam with a good amount of caviar (‘good’ is totally subjective here, but for me it’s around a heaped teaspoon of caviar), then sprinkle on some chopped chives, and serve!