Bottarga is the roe pouch of either the mullet fish or tuna, that has been cured in salt and air dried.
Sounds tasty doesn’t it?
Sounds like the perfect mix of seafood and charcuterie to me!
Bottarga is a specialty of the island of Sardinia, off the coast of Italy. Some consider it to be a poor mans caviar, which I think is a wholly inaccurate assessment of one of the more unique seafood ingredients out there. It’s flavor is really nothing like caviar – it is far richer, exceedingly complex, and very very comforting. Some might liken its taste to a very good salted anchovy, but even that misses the mark (but is much closer than caviar).
It is typically sold in blocks – that is how it is cured after all. These are cased in wax to help preserve freshness. It is one ingredient I have always wanted to try, but frankly the price of it put me off a bit. A block normally retails from about $60 to $100, depending on the make. The stuff can last, about 6 months in the fridge apparently, but even still that is a heck of a lot of bottarga parties to use it all up, especially since a little goes a long way.
To make things worse, I don’t know of any Seattle restaurants serving it, so I couldn’t go get a taste anywhere. (Any readers that want to correct me on this, and point out places that have bottarga on their menu’s – go for it!)
So alas, no bottarga for me. Or so I thought.
I have just started helping a friend of mine out, Scott, who runs the fantastic meat curing blog http://sausagedebauchery.blogspot.com
He emailed me recently mentioning that he was setting up an online store, selling imported Italian foods. We got talking, and I have ended up taking some product shots for him, for the new store. In return? I get to keep whatever he sends me.
So – my first question to him “do you have salted small oily fish?” (which is pretty much my first question to anyone actually).
question two: “do you have bottarga?”
question three: “do you have really bloody good salted capers, not the stuff in brine?”
“YES, two kinds from two different areas in Italy actually”
So, as you can see from the conversation above, Scott could quite easily become my new best friend…
This post is more than just the story of how I managed to score some great bottarga for free however. Scott’s product is somewhat different to what I have seen other places.
This isn’t a honking slab that sells for $80. He has sourced a company that sells high quality bottarga, in small vacuum sealed pouches – which is pre-grated.
Now, my first question when I heard this was “er, this isn’t going to be like pre-grated Parmesan is it, cos we all know that stuff is nasty“.
“NO, this is a really high quality product, that get vac sealed as soon as it is grated“. Was the reply. “I think you are going to really like it”
He was right, I do really like it. I will go as far to say that I am addicted to it. Pasta, salads, you name it – I have put some on it. Anything you want that salty fishy taste to, bingo. Bottarga is your product.
The best thing about this little bag of joy is the price to be honest (not my price – free ninety nine), but the price at which you can buy it from him – $10 for a decent amount of the stuff – certainly enough for a good few very large bottarga parties.
As most readers of my humble little blog will know, I like clean simple food. Don’t give me a zillion ingredients, just a few really good choice ones. I like layered flavors that are complex, bright and distinctive, not muddy and flat. This is especially true when I am trying out a new ingredient for the first time.
Enter the worlds most simple, yet addictive pasta. Just pasta, bottarga, garlic, parsley and good olive oil. The bottarga makes this so darn complex that I could eat this every day for a week and not get bored of it.
This is quite possibly the shortest recipe I have written on my blog, and one of the tastiest:
Bottarga Pasta Recipe
2 good handfuls of pasta – spaghetti works great here
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
bottarga to taste – about 2 tablespoons
really good olive oil – about 5 tablespoons
Cook your pasta according to packet directions – or make your own and cook it to your likeness. Personally I like to still have a solid bite to mine.
In a large bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of bottarga and the garlic with a couple of olive oil. You can warm this over a low flame if you want, to retard the garlic taste a bit.
Drain the pasta when done. Tip into the oil/bottarga bowl. Toss to combine. Add in the parsley, pinches at a time, until everything is nicely coated with green flecks. Add more bottarga to taste.
Divide between two bowls, sprinkle a little more bottarga over the top, and a little more oil and parsley if needed.
Serve straight away.
If you are interested in the products Scott has to offer, including this bottarga – check out: http://www.sausagedebauchery.com/ his online store.