Bottarga, or salted mullet roe, is one of the most ancient processed foods. The Egyptians considered it a delicacy and as many as 5000 years ago they conserved mullet roe in paraffin. Bottarga jars have been found in the pyramids with their contents pretty much intact.
Bottarga is made from the roe pouch of mullet, tuna, or swordfish. In Italy, it is produced mainly in Sardinia (the Bottarga from Cabras is well known), in Orbetello (Tuscany’s Maremma coastal region), in Sicily (Milazzo and Trapani), and in Calabria.
Similar specialties are produced also in other parts of the Mediterranean:“batarekh” in Egypt and “poutargue” in Provence. It is perhaps for this reason that Bottarga is nicknamed the “Caviar of the Mediterranean.” It appears that the Phoenicians were the first to produce Bottarga. But the name itself comes from Arabic: “butarikh,” meaning salted roe.
Bottarga preparation is very simple and artisanal. The pouches with the mullet roe are kept in brine from 8 to 20 hours, depending on their size. They are then salted on all sides, tied with string, and placed on a plank. A weight is then placed on them for 40 days during which they will be salted every day. The weight and the salt squeezes all the blood and the liquids from the roe. In the next phase, the pouches, which by then have taken an oblong shape and have a thickness of about 1.5 to 2 inches, are tied lengthwise and hung to dry for another 30 to 40 days, depending on their weight.
Bottarga used to be the staple food of fishermen because it kept so well and could be taken on long fishing trips.
Recipe: Spaghetti con bottarga.
Bottarga di Muggine (Grey Mullet Roe) – From Cabras – Whole
Grey mullet is, perhaps more than any other animal, what it eats. In the pond in Cabras, where these grey mullets 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–then dried and salted eggs that make bottarga is pressed and sent for distribution.
The color of the roe ranges from gold to dark amber. The saline aroma is accompanied by notes of almond and musk. Oro di Cabras has a smoothness that other bottarga can never achieve. A smoothness exalted in the bottarga with su biddiu (in the local Sardinian dialect: the belly button). Only the biggest and healthiest grey mullets (one in thirty, on average) allow the expert fisherman to extract the whole egg sac up to the “bellybutton”, the external belly part, thus avoiding any contact between the eggs, hermetically protected inside the sac, and the outside.
Bottarga 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.
This grated mullet bottarga from producer Oro di Cabras, in Sardegna, enhances any dish with a briny Mediterranean sea flavor. Mullet bottarga is a more delicate tasting than tuna bottarga. Grated bottarga can be used straight from the jar to make a classic spaghetti con bottarga with olive oil. Or use it to add rich, salty, umami flavor to any other pasta dish, bitter greens, mashed potatoes, risotto, scrambled eggs, pizza, artichokes, or fresh vegetables – wherever you’d like to liven things up with the fresh taste of the sea!.
This Bottarga di Muggine is made from the roe (egg) pouch of the grey mullet fish. Once it has been dried and cured, it has a golden or amber color and a savory, briny taste with a hint of almond. Bottarga was once known as the “poor man’s caviar,” but that hardly does justice to this Mediterranean delicacy, prized by food lovers from the ancient Egyptian, Phoenician and Roman empires, on up to the present.