The singular feminine noun bottarga (pronounced bot-TAR-ga) sounds a lot like bottega, but refers to something completely different. Nicknamed il caviale del Mediterraneo [the caviar of the Mediterranean], la bottarga is salted and dried roe (fish eggs).
Especially in Sardegna [Sardinia], where about 150 tons are consumed every year, Italian bottarga is a delicacy that can get quite pricey, at an average cost of 12 Euro per 100 grams (upwards of $50 a pound) within Italy.
Bottarga is usually sold as dry, elongated amber-colored sacs, containing the eggs of either mullet or tuna. A mullet can grow to 30 inches long, so the ovarian sacs extracted from the fish are often 4-8 inches long. After they are removed, the sacs are salted, pressed and dried, then packaged for sale.
Many believe that the Phoenicians were the first to start the bottarga trend about 3,000 years ago. The origins of the word bottarga have been traced to بطارخ, an Arabic word pronounced more or less as “batahrikh“. Historical records from Medieval times stow that bottarga appeared on the dinner tables of France, Spain, Egypt and Italy. Today, this same delicacy is prepared and eaten in other European and Asian countries where mullet are caught: in Greece it’s called avgotaraho, in Taiwain it’s called wuyutsu, and in Turkey it’s called haviar.
This ingredient is used in spaghetti alla bottarga, a recipe which calls for the roe to be grated and then sprinkled over the noodles. La bottarga can also be eaten alone, cut into slices and dressed with olive oil. If you’re interested in further exploring this unique product, a summer sagra [food festival] devoted to la bottarga recently began in Castiadas, Sardegna.
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