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Several customers have asked me lately about the origins of our bottarga, what makes it special, and how to use it in the kitchen. These are all great questions considering this flavourful and artisanal delicacy is not well-known outside of the Mediterranean basin (and parts of Asia); though certainly growing in popularity.
As you might have guessed from its appearance, bottarga is a type of seafood made with pressed dried fish eggs. The term derives from the Arabic “butarkhah”, literally meaning “fish egg inside its sack”. The two most commonly used types of fish are tuna (bottarga di tonno) and the more prized grey mullet (bottarga di muggine). The roes are removed, rinsed, salted, pressed and cured for up to 6 months. The tuna bottarga has a stronger saltier taste and is often used in Sicily, while the best examples of grey mullet bottarga are found in Sardegna, which is where our producer Stefano Rocca is located.
The origins of cured fish roe date back to 3000 B.C. ancient Egypt, where its high quantities of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) made it an important supply of nutrients and food. Fish roes are high in protein and packed with vitamins like Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Vitamin E and E2, Vitamin A, and Vitamin K2. The Japanese and Taiwanese have a similar delicacy, also made with mullet roe, called Karasumi (カラスミ) and Wuyuzi (烏魚子), respectively, though the consistency of Wuyuzi is slightly more moist. While the Japanese like to pair their bottarga with a high-quality sake, Italians will usually opt for a crisp white wine. Here at Profood we particularly enjoy it with a sweetly spiced Gewürztraminer, a match made in heaven!
Bottarga comes in a variety of colors, from deep amber orange to reddish-brown types, depending on the vascolarization of the ovarian sack. In addition, bottarga undergoes a natural process of oxidation as it matures, just like ham and cheese, which may affect its colour but certainly not its quality. In fact, mature bottarga is particularly valued by connoisseurs as it lends to more complex, savory and decisive flavours. Its deep ocean taste, slightly salty and with a nutty finish, pairs well with green veggies like celery, broccoli, asparagus and beans, fresh goat's cheese and buratta, as well as pasta of course! Condiments and spices like chili, parsley, olive oil and citrus fruits all match beautifully to add texture and a nice punch to the flavour. When deciding which type to buy, grated or whole mullet bottarga, it really depends on you. If you plan to use it primarily for pasta, then grated will make preparation a lot easier. If you are not sure and would like to experiment with it a bit in the kitchen - slicing, shaving and grating it yourself - then definitely go with a whole piece; be sure to remove the thin layer of skin that surrounds it. Once opened, do not leave your bottarga exposed unnecessarily to air. Wrap it in plastic and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you purchase the grated type, seal it properly to maintain its freshness.
Even the smallest flake can make all the difference, and you don't have to be a Chef to use it in your kitchen! I've linked below three easy-peasy dishes to get you started. Just click on the image to be redirected to the recipe. A big thanks to all our readers for visiting our blog, until next post!
A native Italian-Austrian based in Hong Kong, Tamara Agusta is a branding expert, integrative nutrition fanatic, aspiring yogi, food nerd, and the General Manager at Profood Hong Kong. Beautiful designs make her happy, and she cannot live without avocados, airplanes, coffee (MOGI, of course) or Evernote. Follow her on Instagram.
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