Approx 4 oz - Gray Mullet Bottarga - Elda-Alicante, Spain
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Once known as the poor man's caviar, bottarga is the salted, pressed and dried roe of gray mullet (muggine) or tuna (tonno). The tradition of harvesting the nutrient-rich sea salt of the tidal marshes, and using it to preserve the abundant local seafood is maintained to this day in Italy, especially in Sicily and Sardinia. And now, fishermen from Sardinia bring the tradition of air-cured tuna and flavorful sea salt to the rest of the world.
While the practice of preserving tuna or mullet roe is sometimes thought to be a legacy of the Byzantines, the practice actually goes farther back, to ancient or possibly even pre-historic, times. The same process is used in Turkey, Egypt, and some coastal areas of Asia.
Today, bottarga is a specialty of both Sardinia and Sicily. To make it, the entire long, fat roe sac is salted and and then massaged by hand over several weeks to eliminate air pockets. The roe is then pressed using wooden planks and stone or marble weights and sun-dried for one to two months.
Gray mullet bottarga has a famously rich, enticing flavor. Marcella Hazan notes in her book, Marcella Says: "[Bottarga di Muggine] has a penetrating flavor that is like nothing else coming from the Italian pantry, sweetish yet densely briny."
Bottarga may be shaved, sliced, chopped or grated, and just a little provides a ton of flavor to a whole host of dishes. A very popular dish is Spaghetti con Bottarga, made with grated or finely chopped bottarga, olive oil, red pepper flakes and chopped parsley - simple but delicious. Try topping a salad of bitter greens with shaved bottarga, or grate it into your rice congee for a more flavorful breakfast.
Bottarga should be kept in a cool place away from the light. For modern households, the refrigerator is usually the best spot.