The ‘Poor Man’s’ Caviar’: Bottarga

'Bottarga di Muggine su foglie' (Bottarga mullet on leaves)

‘Bottarga di Muggine su foglie’ (Bbttarga mullet on leaves)

Bottarga, sometimes called the “poor man’s caviar,” is prized by award-winning chefs and by simple eaters alike — proving that when it comes to taste, the smartest ingredients often have humble beginnings.

Bottarga is a fish roe pouch that is cleaned, massaged to eliminate air pockets, salted, pressed and dried for up to five months. This type of preparation has been used since the Phoenicians cultivated the practice on the banks of the Nile River more than 3,000 years ago. Battarik (the Arabic word for bottarga,) was later brought to the Mediterranean by Middle-easterners who wanted to trade their “caviar of the Mediterranean” with the Greeks and Romans. The delicacy was quickly considered a beautiful thing for the refined palate and appreciation spread.

Today, you will find bottarga wearing many outfits and going by many names.  In America, we prefer “bottarga,” as it is also called in Italy and Sicily. In Sardinia, it is called butàriga and is made from Flathead mullet. In Sicily, bottarga is made from Atlantic bluefin tuna. In Liguria and Calabria, it is called ovotarica, and is often made from swordfish. Swordfish and tuna create a strong, intense marine-like flavor. Silver, or grey mullet, is the most popular fish to make bottarga from and has a more delicate flavor.

It is deeply golden in color, incredibly rich in flavor and is typically eaten as an appetizer — sliced thinly and served on bread or grated finely and dusted over fresca dishes and pasta.

Burrata Sedano e Bottarga

Burrata Sedano e bottarga

Serving Suggestions:

  • Place Burrata, “the Cadillac of Buffalo Mozzarella,” on a bed of greens, drizzle lightly with Ligurian olive oil and lemon oil and dust with grated bottarga. (Pictured right.)
  • Slice bottarga thinly and drizzle with olive oil, lemon zest and Italian parsley. Place on a piece of crostini and serve with a cornichon on the side.
  • Grate bottarga finely over simple pasta with olive oil, garlic and Parmesan.

Adult beverage pairing: pastis, arak, vodka, or late harvest riesling.




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Categories: Food + Drink, History + Legends, On a fork, Stories

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