I first had bottarga at Deme’s apartment about 2 years ago. A friend Roberto had just come back from Italy and brought some back with him. I had never seen it or heard of it before so was eager to give it a try. After finding out it was an Italian specialty from Sicily and Sardegna, I knew I was in for something quite exotic.
Bottarga was known as the poor man's caviar. It is the salted, pressed and dried roe of either the tuna (tonno) or gray mullet (muggine). The long, fat roe sack is salted and massaged by hand over several weeks to eliminate air pockets. The roe is then pressed using wooden planks and stone or marble weights. It is then sun dried for one to two months. Colors naturally vary from golden yellow to darker shades of reddish brown.
Tuna bottarga - salted tuna roe - has a, salty, sharp flavor, stronger than gray mullet bottarga. The bottarga is very hard and firm therefore can be shaved, sliced, chopped or grated, and just a little provides a ton of flavor. I can say it tastes like the sea without being too fishy. Bottarga has a long history. It was brought to Sicily by Arabs where it spread to other coastal countries like Turkey, Egypt (in which it is eaten sliced on buttered bread), France and parts of coastal Asia.
Click here to see images of how bottarga is prepared. Hint: The site is in Italian so just pay attention to the images in the left hand corner of the site.
Bottarga as it is packaged and sold in grocery stores and gourmet shops. It is best kept refrigerated until used. This piece cost about 12 Euros.
Spaghetti con Bottarga
Serves 4, as a first course
300-400 grams of pasta or 3/4 of a box or package of spaghetti
2 cloves garlic smashed
a good pinch of red pepper flakes (adjust to your taste)
Good olive oil
fresh ground pepper
1 full lobe of bottarga, grated (Bottarga comes packaged in two lobes, about 4 Tbs.
1. Cook pasta in salted water until just al dente.
2. While the pasta is cooking, warm some olive oil and saute the garlic to infuse its flavor into the oil, then remove. Make sure the oil is not too hot, just lightly warm. Add the grated bottarga, chili flakes and let cook lightly, about 1 minute, take off the heat. Toss with hot pasta. Drizzle with oil, add chopped parsley and grate a bit of fresh bottarga on top for a finishing touch.
Here's the finished product. I did not have spaghetti and substituted capellini but it was not the same. The right pasta does make all the difference.
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