Bottarga

 

As with many Mediterranean delicacies, bottarga is probably of Middle-Eastern origin, but it was commandeered by Italians around late Fifteenth century, and it is now known the world over with its Italian name. Its first printed mention is in fact from a 1474 Italian recipes book, although similar preparations appear as far as Japan.

Bottarga is the egg sac (technically called roe pouch) of tuna or grey mullet. It is carefully cut out of the body and manipulated by hand in order to squeeze every air bubble out of it, then pressed and cured in sea salt. At the end of the treatment it transforms into a sort of bar of dried and compressed fish eggs, which is sensibly also known as “Mediterranean caviar”. Depending on the quality of the original fish and the curing used, bottarga slabs can fetch a very high price – but they are worth every penny, as they can be a real treat. In Italian cuisine it is mostly used for island recipes (Sicily and Sardinia), grated over more complex preparations. The flavor is so delicate and delicious that it is also often eaten as the only condiment on plain spaghetti. Really exceptional bottarga is also sometimes sliced very thinly and eaten on mini-bruschettas or just with a similarly thin slice of lemon and an oil tear. The best – and very high in protein content – Italian bottarga comes from Sicilian tuna. It can be easily recognized by its large section (mullet never goes over 6 cm) and pinkish color. Mullet bottarga is generally much cheaper, unless you choose the hyper-exclusive bottarga con su biddiu – an especially difficult preparation including the bellybutton of the fish, giving it a unique flavor.