Bottarga is a savory, umami-boosting ingredient known and used all over the world. This opulent food-stuff might be a little pricey, but it is well worth its weight in culinary gold.
What is Bottarga?
Bottarga is simply pressed, salted, and air-dried fish roe, most commonly sourced from Grey Mullet. The whole roe sac is extracted from the fish and carefully massaged to release any air pockets before being salted, pressed, and aged. The aging process can take several weeks to give the bottarga the desired texture and flavor. The finished product is a smooth, flat, salami-like ingredient that can be grated or thinly sliced over dishes for a pop of savory flavor.
While bottarga dots the menus of some of the most modern restaurants around the world, its history is as ancient as they come. It is believed that the Phoenicians were the first to adopt and perfect the recipe for drying fish roe, using the bounty of the eastern Mediterranean for their seafood sourcing, and naming their ingredient ‘butarkah’. This preservation technique was shared with the Egyptians around the 10th century BCE, before spreading further to Europe and Asia through spice trade routes. Soon bottarga became entrenched in cuisines all over the world: it was a butarkah boom! Today, evidence for bottarga’s historical spread can be seen in the multitude of names given to this special ingredient from karasumi in Japan, eoran in Korea, avgotaraho in Greece, poutargue in France, and bottarga in Italy.
Flavor & Uses
Bottarga shares a similar flavor profile to that of caviar or uni (sea urchin): briney, but with pleasantly pungent hints of the sea. Bottarga is an intense ingredient used in smaller quantities to highlight or enhance the overall flavor of the dish. Most often you will see bottarga finely grated or thinly sliced at the very end of plating. Some of the most popular uses are topping pasta, eggs, or salads. Bottarga is hardly ever cooked or added during the cooking process.
If you are interested in using bottarga at home, the easiest and fastest way to acquire it is online, however, speciality and gourmet Italian grocery stores usually stock a selection of bottarga.