If you like the taste of the sea in your dishes, do not miss this simple recipe of spaghetti alla bottarga, with the unique and refined aromas the caviar of the Mediterranean. A recipe that comes straight from Italy.
What is bottarga?
Bottarga is a culinary specialty that can be found in a few countries around the Mediterranean including Italy (bottarga), Turkey, Greece (Αυγοτάραχο), Portugal (butarga), Algeria or Tunisia. On the Asian side, the Japanese are fans of it and know it as karasumi.
For those who do not know about it, bottarga is nothing but salted and cured fish roe. Fish roe refers to the female gonads of certain edible aquatic animal species.
It comes in the form of an egg pouch, of varying size and color. Although in common parlance, roe is often called “fish egg”, fish eggs are rather the multiple constituents of this roe, and are obtained by separating the tissue that forms the outer pocket of the ovary.
When it comes to bottarga, we are talking about fish eggs, usually mullet eggs, but sometimes also tuna, swordfish or ling eggs. The mullet bottarga is certainly the most popular and probably the most appreciated, although the tuna bottarga is excellent.
Rather strange if you consider that mullet, compared to tuna or swordfish, is considered one of the least appreciated fish by consumers. And yet, its eggs are quite prized for their incomparable flavors.
How do you make bottarga?
In the summer, when the egg-filled mullet reaches an ideal size, it is caught and selected and, with extreme delicacy, its eggs are extracted.
The extraction phase is extremely delicate because it is important not to break or damage the extremely thin pocket that contains these eggs otherwise it would no longer be possible to cure them. Once extracted, the eggs are washed with plenty of water and ice, and then cleaned of any residue.
At this point, the second phase can begin, during which the salting process is performed. The eggs are sprinkled with salt and kept for a long time. There are no two equal bottargas: each piece is unique and must be checked daily to obtain the optimum result.
Then, in the third phase, the eggs are washed one by one, spread out and pressed by weights to flatten them and to be able to carry out the fourth phase, that of drying.
During the drying phase, the eggs are suspended and left to dry naturally for at least five days, then left in the dark for three days, to allow them to take the typical aroma that characterizes bottarga.
Once dry, bottarga is then wrapped in food-grade wax.
To consume it, thinly slice it and, of course, remove the wax.
What is the origin of bottarga?
The history of bottarga certainly starts from its name, which is what it represented and still represents. The name is actually of Arabic origin and comes from the word butarik (بطارخ) which means “to keep in brine”.
Even if historians have not defined in a precise way that it is the Arabs who invented bottarga, it is certain that it was them, who during their trips in the Mediterranean, transmitted the techniques of preparation and conservation of food to the other populations that dominated this sea. According to many scholars, the Arabic name of butarik, meaning “salted and dried fish roe”, would in turn come from the Greek name of tarichos.
This name, tarichos, designated other products that were more similar to charcuterie than to fish. But what is interesting is that the term tarichos indicates above all the fact that these products were kept in salt, thus demonstrating that salt was really a great resource for the preservation of food in ancient times.
At the time of the pyramids, the Egyptians already consumed dried fish eggs, and other sources establish that it is therefore very likely that the Phoenicians made this product known all around the Mediterranean.
Where can you find bottarga?
Bottarga is mainly made in Italy, and specifically in Sardinia, as well as France, Greece, and Mauritania.
The Italian name (which is where the English name came from) is bottarga: bottarga di muggineou (mullet) and bottarga di tonno (tuna).
Different specialties and denominations of bottarga are available throughout the various regions of Italy:
– the bottarga of Sardinia, the most popular being those of Alghero, Stintino and Cabras,
– the bottarga of Orbetello (Tuscany region), especially its coastal plain of Maremma grossetana.
Some regions are also known for their tuna bottarga:
– the bottarga of the island of Favignana and coastal towns of Trapani, San Vito Lo Capo and Marzamemi in Sicily,
– the bottarga of Calabria,
– the bottarga of Carloforte in Sardinia.
It is a luxury specialty of the city of Martigues, in Provence. The bottarga of Martigues is called “le caviar martégal” (the caviar of Martigues).
This preparation has been marketed since at least the 18th century.
Bottarga is made by a tributary population, the Imraguens, living around Cape Timiris and engaged exclusively in seasonal yellow mullet fishing, between October and December, and in March-April. Most of the fishing is destined for drying, and especially for making bottarga.
The Greek bottarga, the avgotaracho, has a taste of incredible finesse and deserves attention.
In Greece it is in Messolonghi that everything happens. Over there, it is called mesolonghiou avgotaraho, and it is a 100% Greek PDO product.
Mesolonghi is a town located between the Acheloos and Evinos rivers, in the west of Greece, at the entrance of the Gulf of Patras and along the lagoon of the same name, which constitutes a wetland of the most interesting, rich fauna and flora.
Its name, according to the most accredited version, derives from Italian mezzo lago. And in fact, the city was built on 3 islets and the inhabitants communicated with each other by boats.
George Gordon Byron, generally called Lord Byron, was a British poet, who was born January 22, 1788 in London and died April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, Greece, then under Ottoman rule. Some writings report that it is Lord Byron who helped make the bottarga known all over Europe.
But before Lord Byron, who died in 1824, was known all over Europe, many visitors stopped to watch this product, known for centuries as avgotaracho mesolonghiou.
Indeed, historical facts have shown that fish roe was a delicacy among the elite of the Pharaohs in Egypt, while its nutritional value made it a staple in the diet of ancient Greeks. In the Byzantine era, this product had acquired a special place in the gastronomic identity of the Empire.
However, it was only in 1824 that Lord Byron extended the fame of the Greek bottarga (Messolonghi fish eggs) throughout Europe.
The time-consuming production process, unchanged since ancient times, combined with the ideal ecosystem conditions for the production of fish roe makes it a delicacy. In Greece, the bioclimatic conditions of the Messolonghi lagoon, the hollow waters filled with plankton and a constant temperature are ideal for growing mullets.
In mid-summer, gray mullet and tuna eggs are harvested, mature ovaries are removed from the fish by hand.
Due to the production process, the Messolonghi fish eggs have been given the name avgotaracho from avgo (egg) and tarichevo (to embalm).
Greek avgotaracho, is clearly distinguishable from other types of fish eggs, not only because of the microclimate of Messolonghi where it is grown, but also because of the conservation process.
What are the benefits of bottarga?
In addition to offering a distinctly delicious flavor and being a culinary treasure, bottarga is also a healthy snack with nutritional benefits.
As far as Greek bottarga is concerned, according to studies by the Department of Science of Dietetics and Nutrition at Harokopion University in Athens, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, fish eggs are among the healthiest foods with effective medical benefits to stimulate the circulatory system and protect against heart disease.
A good quality bottarga contains no preservatives, additives or artificial colors. It is rich in vitamins A, B, C and calcium and is a rich source of omega-3 monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids that help protect the cardiovascular system and strengthen the immune system.
According to research conducted by the Hellenic Institut Pasteur, the regular consumption of fish eggs would lead to a reduction in cholesterol levels.
So enjoy this delicacy without guilt. It should be consumed by itself with a pinch of pepper and a drizzle of lemon. Great food lovers claim that the combination with dried figs would create a delightful experience. Bottarga can also be added to green salads.
Whatever your personal tastes, do not miss out on this delicious pasta recipe!
- 16 oz. spaghetti
- 5 cloves garlic , thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons grated mullet bottarga or tuna bottarga (salted, cured fish roe)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 tablespoons fruity olive oil (extra virgin)
- Juice of half a lemon
- 8 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Boil the water for the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the package.
Place a large frying pan over medium heat.
Add the olive oil, the garlic cloves, chili flakes, and half of the parsley (reserve the other half of the parsley to add at the last minute so that it retains its bright green color and its flavor).
Stir for a few minutes or until garlic is lightly browned.
Reduce the heat to low. Add 2 tablespoons grated bottarga. Stir and simmer for a few minutes adding a little more olive oil if necessary.
Drain the pasta, leaving some cooking liquid aside.
Mix the pasta in the pan, add the rest of the bottarga and a little pasta cooking water (optional).
Stir for 1 minute, then add the remaining parsley and the juice of a half lemon.
Serve immediately and garnish each plate with an extra pinch or two of grated bottarga.