Bottarga seems to be the ingredient of the moment. A decade ago, it crept into food stories; then onto restaurant plates; now, via televised food shows, into the home kitchen.
Bottarga, which is the Italian word and used by Americans, goes by other names: botarga in Spain, botargo in the U.K., poutargue in France, karasumi in Japan and avgotaraho in Greece — where I first had it.
Bottarga is artisanal: compressed fish roe sacs dried in the sun. Traditionally packaged in beeswax, today most bottarga is vacuum-packed. The fish variety varies, but tuna and mullet are common. Bottarga has a range of maritime flavors depending on the type of fish, is pumpkin in color and firm to the touch. Bottarga is either served paper thin as on crostini and salads, or microplaned onto strands of pastas, as in spaghetti alla bottarga.
Bottarga should not be confused with salt-cured fish eggs, such as caviar or taramas (the Greek cod roe used in the dip taramasalata). Loose roe is available almost everywhere. Bottarga is not.
Historically, bottarga was created to use all parts of the animal, a current trend in American cuisine. In keeping with this, Seth Cripe, a Florida native, founded the Anna Maria Fish Company (AMFC) in Cortez, Fla., to preserve his Gulf Coast community's culture by protecting fishermen and fish. Since one-half million pounds of the Gulf's grey mullet roe is shipped annually to Italy to produce bottarga, he decided to use that same roe to craft bottarga in Florida. He uses the roe from striped grey mullet caught by hand-cast net and then compressed in the traditional process.
Bottarga, like all fish roe, is on the pricey side, but a little bit goes a long way, and it keeps for quite some time in the refrigerator. You can order directly from AMFC: www.cortezbottarga.com.
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