Once known as the poor man’s caviar, the bottarga is the salted, pressed and dried roe of either the tonno (tuna bottarga) or mugine (gray mullet bottarga). It is a specialty that comes from both Sardinia and Sicily. 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 then it is put under stone or marble weights. It is then sun dried for a couple of months.
While someone thinks that the practice of preserving the tuna or mullet roe comes from the Byzantines, the practice actually goes farther back to ancient, possibly even pre-historic times. The same process to make bottarga is also used in Turkey, Egypt, and even in coastal areas of Asia.
Bottarga di Muggine (Grey Mullet Roe) – From Cabras – whole
by Sapori del Salento
This dried salted roe bottarga made by the Manca brothers is, without any doubt, is the best bottarga in the world.
Grey mullet is, perhaps more than any other animal, what it eats. In the pond in Cabras, where these grey mullet are raised, the fish eat naturally and healthfully.
The mullet’s eggs, after being extracted, washed and purified, are put under salt and then hung to mature. At the right moment–and the expertise of the Manca brothers is put to good use in determining exactly when that is–the dried and salted eggs that make bottarga are pressed and sent for distribution
The Arabs, during their domination, introduced in the Sardinian cuisine the bottarga, the dried salted eggs of the Mullet.
Bottarga from Sardinia is on sale at: www.gustiamo.com
Bottarga di Tonno (Tuna Roe) from Erice by Sapori del Salento
Vincenzo Macro’, from the fish preserving company Tre Torri, is among the few people able to procure a part of the supply of the local tuna, fished in the nearby island of Favignana, from the demands of the Japanese and American markets. This way he manages to offer a bottarga (dried and salted roe) made from local tuna eggs, when the majority of the ones on the market are obtained from Atlantic tuna.
The term bottarga, from the Arab bot-ah-rik, means “raw fish eggs” or “uovo di tonno” (tuna egg) as it is known in Italian.
The whole egg sacs are properly washed and salted, and then put to dry in the sun. Nothing is simpler than this food so it depends upon top-quality fish eggs. The final product’s taste and quality depends upon the balance in the salting process and the drying, which must be done very gently to avoid oversalting and dessication. Easy to say, very hard to do. A pinch of salt less than necessary, and the precious sac rots; a day longer in the sun, and it dries up.
Dried tuna roe has a flavor that is stronger than grey mullet roe, but it’s just as adaptable. It can be eaten very simply with bread, after being sliced in thin shreds and left to soften in olive oil for at least half an hour, or in the classic Sardinian pasta dish Spaghetti Con La Bottarga (always add the bottarga at the end on the dish, not in the pan), or in fancier combinations. It is always delicious on omelets, rice, and mashed potatoes.
Bottarga from Sicily is on sale at: www.gustiamo.com