Bottarga di muggine or grey mullet bottarga.

I have to admit that for some time I called bottarga, bottega. Finally a friend quietly suggested that maybe (she is a gentle and diplomatic soul) I meant bottarga, ‘bottega‘ she explained ‘is Italian for workshop, you don’t really want one of those with your spaghetti.’ A mild mistake I know, but I can’t help but cringe and screw my face up when I think of it because I inevitably think back to a certain supper, one of the first at which I actually felt bold enough to use my Italian in front of strangers, and I banged on about spaghetti alla workshop.

A definition is probably my best option here as I have a tendency to beat around things, bushes, recipes, the point.

Bottarga is fish roe, extracted with its membrane still intact, lightly pressed, cured in brine and dried in the sun. There are two kinds of Bottarga, that of grey mullet (bottatge di muggine) or tuna (bottarga di tonno.)

Mullet bottarga is beautifully strange and curiously shaped, like a flattened teardrop or tongue, it’s colour ranges from deep red- amber to brilliant orange- yellow. The best comes from the female thin lipped grey mullet, most notably those fished from the waters of Cabras, a lake off the western shore of Sardinia. Good mullet bottarga is hardly surprisingly, expensive, but not exclusive if bought in small quantities.

bottarga

The first time I ate bottarga was in Sardinia in a trattoria near Olba, it was August and we had just spent the day on the beach, we had sand between our toes, our noses were freckled and our skin was pleasingly tight and salty. The bottarga was sliced paper thin and served with olive oil and lemon.

The flavour of good mullet bottarga is quite curious at first, my palate was confused when it encountered the first sliver. It takes a moment, at first you are not sure, the texture is a little waxy, then its melts and the flavour begins to open up in your mouth, a soft creaminess, a delicate fishy, briny, warm almost spicy sensation fills your mouth. The flavour lingers, opens up some more, a hint of something pleasingly metallic (yes, I know but I am only being honest) it lingers some more, you taste buds are at work, negotiating the soft but intense sensations of warm, spicy, salty, fishy, creamy. Finally you realise you have eaten something quite extraordinary.

Later, during the same holiday I ate spaghetti alla bottarga for the first time, the neutral base of pasta providing a perfect foil for the curiously delicious bottarga. On another occasion I ate slivers of it tossed with green salad and a small dish of warm cannellini beans topped with gratings of this amber delicacy.

Back home, this was no holiday romance, since that hot August day, we have eaten bottarga with spaghetti more times than I care to remember. We slice it thinly and squash it on hot buttered toast, it has perked up various bowlfuls of cannellini and (possibly one of my favorite ways to eat it) been grated modestly over scrambled eggs – not exactly the height of sophistication but just divine.

8 Comments

Filed under fish, food, rachel eats Italy

8 responses to “Bottarga di muggine or grey mullet bottarga.

  1. thank you.

    thank you for finally explaining the flavor of bottarga better than anyone else. this is becoming an american “foodie” trend and i think i need to get on the bandwagon soon.

    amy

  2. I just arrived home after being away for quite a long time and was delighted to find some treasured bottarga in my refrigerator drawer. This meant a quick and painless, DELICIOUS dish of pasta without a trip to the grocery.

    Your bottarga must be a softer variety as there is no way I can “squash” mine on toast and wish I could.

  3. What a beautiful description! I have only had tuna bottarga, and I liked it…but I’ve heard more than once that I will like mullet better.

  4. i live for bottarga and have posted about it about 5 times. it is one of my favorite things ever. period.

  5. Thank you Rachel for explaining Bottarga di Muggine so clearly. I live in British Columbia, Canada and I have an art student who lives in Caglian, which I believe is in the southern part of Italy. Alessandro sent me some Bottarga di Muggine in the mail. I was perplexed when I openned the package but quickly understood what he was saying to me after reading your blog. I so appreciate your writing. Again thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Tricia Sellmer,
    Canadian Artist.

  6. I think sometimes scrambled eggs (cooked to perfection) can be the height of sophistication. Thanks for the great idea. My first Bottarga di Muggine arrived in the mail today and I’m looking for ways to use it. My husband and I have been trying to avoid grains lately, but I was thinking I’d have to cave in with pasta or crostini to try the Bottarga; your scrambled egg suggestion is just what I needed!

  7. As an afficionado of bottarga for the past 30 years, I would like to add that there is excellent bottarga produced in Turkey, too. And we are still talking about mullet bottarga as opposed to the tuna stuff. The Turkish bottarga was called just “fish eggs” when I bought it in Istanbul a few years ago. A Greek friend told me it is also made in Greece. The best I have tasted is from Sardinia, from the lagoon of Orbetello just north of Rome, and from France. In France it is made by exiled Tunisian Jews, since it is also (apparently) made in Tunisia.
    In other words, it is a pan-Mediterranean product, and particularly appreciated by Jews from the Mediterranean area. But beware! I have seen on sale in Rome some cheap bottarga which comes from the far east, which was not very good, and some which according to the shop I bought it from in north Tel Aviv is made in Yafo (Jaffa), which was also nothing to write home about.
    The thing is that, it seems, some producers buy the fish eggs from one place and then produce the bottarga in another place. There is also the fact that while 20 years ago only a few people even knew what bottarga was, today it is sold all over the world in great quantities. So production has increased enormously with the consequences one can, alas, imagine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s