There are only few ingredients able to give dishes flavour and personality so intensely. Let us introduce you to bottarga, the Mediterranean caviar.
Its origins are incredibly ancient: in fact, it was the Phoenicians who – almost 3 thousand years ago – first brought this precious and rare specialty to the Mediterranean Sea. The translation of batārikh, the Arab name for bottarga, is literally ‘dried fish eggs’. Indeed, bottarga is made by drying, then salting, mullet or tuna roe.
Tuna and mullet: differences
From a tuna, you may obtain a 1 kg-plus (2.2 lbs.-plus) egg sac, whilst as for mullet, the sac may weigh between 200 and 500 grams (0.4-1.1 lbs.).
The two specialties are processed in different ways. The mullet egg sac is stored in a dry and ventilated area, where it is sprinkled with medium/fine grain sea salt; the product is laid on a horizontal plane and turned periodically, repeating the salting process for a number of days. The duration of such phase varies depending on the sac weight, and is necessary to eliminate the liquid component within the sac. For tuna bottarga, instead, the first phase after washing is pressing by means of weights, in order to eliminate the liquid content of the sac; this process lasts 2 to 4 days, and is followed by salting, then a second 8-10 day pressing phase, once again with a constant replacement of the salt. The final processing phase is drying. The bottarga is hung and left to dry and age: 30-40 days for tuna bottarga, and 45-90 days for mullet bottarga, although the time may vary depending on the humidity and temperature conditions of the processing laboratory.
Where is bottarga made?
Although similar preparations exist in Spain, Greece, France, and the Middle East, the most important areas for bottarga production are the two main Italian islands: Sardinia and Sicily.