The humble choupique evolved during the Triassic Period, over 150 million years ago. Then, dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Triceratops roamed the land.
They are gone, but the choupique, properly known as the bowfin, has endured and is even thriving. They are part of a group lumped together as “primitive fish.” The other primitive fish in North America are paddlefish, sturgeons, and gars.
All of them have one trait in common: Their immature roe (egg mass) is gray-black in color. The roe of sturgeons, sold as caviar, has become probably the most recognized luxury food in the world and certainly one of the most expensive.
Most of the world’s sturgeon caviar now comes from Iran and Russia, neither one of which are friendly trading partners. North American sturgeons are protected (for reasons other than overharvest for their eggs).
But the commercial harvest of paddlefish (mainly from Tennessee) and bowfin (solely from Louisiana) is allowed under controlled circumstances. The state’s little-known bowfin roe fishery has become a gourmet cottage industry.
Louisiana’s harvest is confined to the months of December, January, and February, when the eggs are immature. After that, they turn from black to orange as they mature and become useless as a “caviar” product.
Louisiana bowfin caviar producers are tight-lipped about the caviar-making process. But information outlining how it is done can be found on the internet. The main ingredients are salt and meticulous care.
No legal restrictions exist that prevent recreational fishermen from making bowfin caviar from their own catches for their own uses. The good thing is that unlike fish being kept for their flesh, bowfin kept for caviar production can simply be iced.
Strangely, in the process of fish spoilage, the last thing that goes bad are its eggs.
Whaddaya gotta lose?