Bottarga has been the target of ingredient hunts for years. These cured and dried sacs of mullet roe (typically from Sardinia) are nearly impossible to find in retail causing the restaurant dishes to have cache almost bordering on novelty. Amazon stocks it starting around $50 for a 150 grams. Granted, this product is made slow food and is made in Italy, but that is ridiculous.
Not long ago, I walked to JP Graziano’s, a West Loop wholesaler who does some retail and sandwich business, for a quick sandwich. As I was waiting, I looked through their stock of bulk olives, beans, oils, and other Italian goods, only to stumble on a package of priceless Bottarga. It was literally priceless, so I was left to either buy it without knowing the price or ask and wait to be judged on my reaction. Given the difficulty of finding it and my nature of “buy first, ask questions later”, I picked it up. Not terribly priced (comparitively) at around $35, I was not totally ashamed by the impulse buy; it was still expensive enough to save for a special occasion.
That occasion came last week and to celebrate a bit of good news, I broke out the bottarga. These sacs certainly do not look like sacs of fish roe and, even after we ate, my spouse asked, so where did the briny taste come from again?
Bottarga can be sliced thinly or grated. The briny taste lends itself particularly well with lemon, whether on crostini as an appetizer, in a salad, or, as I prepared it initially, with pasta. Do not overshadow the bottarga with tons of other strong flavors, lest you waste it. This is not the green can of powdered cheese product, so think special occasions.
For the pasta shown below, I simply warmed a little minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, added pasta and chopped parsley, then grated lemon zest and bottarga over the top. The pasta is really good with the bottarga providing a great taste, but also a great textural contrast.