Culinary Arts

What is Bottarga? 8 Ways to Cook With Bottarga (Italian Fish Roe)

Written by MasterClass

Jul 17, 2019 • 2 min read

Bottarga may look like candied fruit, but don't be mistaken: these salty sacs of fish eggs are anything but sweet.

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What Is Bottarga?

Bottarga is the Italian word for salted, cured fish roe. Often called “the poor man’s caviar,” fish eggs have been preserved this way for centuries and are popular both in the Mediterranean and in Asia. Sardinian bottarga di muggine, from grey mullet, has become famous around the world.

How Is Bottarga Made?

Female fish are killed in a delicate manner that keeps blood from entering the roe sacs. The roe pouches are then removed and massaged to remove air pockets. Next they are salted, pressed, and air-dried for a number of weeks. This process yields dry, hard blocks that are typically coated in beeswax or vacuum-sealed for sale.

What Does Bottarga Taste Like?

The unique flavor of bottarga comes down to several factors, including the species of fish used and salinity. Grey mullet roe is often described as savory, rich, umami, funky, briny, subtly salty, and fishy. The flavor is sometimes compared to that of dried anchovies, but bottarga’s texture is undeniably smooth.

5 Different Kinds of Bottarga

Italian bottarga di muggine is famous for its mild flavor and small, oblong orange sacs, but it’s not the only type of bottarga out there:

  1. Sicilian bottarga di tonno is made from bluefin tuna. It’s saltier, fishier, and softer than grey mullet bottarga, and it looks like a large gray brick. Yellowfin tuna bottarga is also available in some markets.
  2. Spanish bottarga can be made from the roe of bonito, black drum, and common ling.
  3. In Norway, bottarga is made from North Atlantic cod.
  4. In Japan and China, cured mullet roe is known as karasumi. It’s sun-dried for a shorter amount of time than the Italian stuff, giving it a softer texture.
  5. Korean eoran comes from mullet, freshwater drum, or coaker. It’s marinated in soy sauce brushed with sesame oil during the drying process.

8 Ways to Serve Grated Bottarga

Bottarga is best to eat raw, or used to top cooked preparations, almost like garnishes of flakey sea salt. Intensely flavored, a little bottarga goes a long way, so it’s best grated on a microplane or thinly sliced using a mandoline. If it’s too soft to grate, try freezing.

  1. Sprinkled with lemon juice to cut the saltiness.
  2. Thinly sliced or grated with bread and extra-virgin olive oil or butter, such as with an Italian flatbread called carta da musica.
  3. Grated with bread and butter.
  4. Grated over al dente pasta dishes such as Chef Thomas Keller's spaghetti aglio e olio, or spaghetti alla bottarga, with lemon zest, breadcrumbs, and olive oil.
  5. On silky, creamy scrambled eggs.
  6. On perfectly cooked risotto.
  7. Over vegetables such as raw celery or steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
  8. In a cherry tomato salad.

Where Do You Buy Bottarga?

Bottarga can be found at Italian specialty stores and online. For the best flavor, buy whole bottarga, not the pre-grated stuff. Bottarga is typically imported from Sardinia and Sicily in Italy, but you can also find bottarga from Florida and France.

How Do You Store Bottarga?

As a cured product, bottarga should last several months when kept in a dark, dry place. Once you’ve opened bottarga, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Peel back the papery membrane surrounding the sac as you use bottarga.

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