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Bottarga: the humble origins of a world delicacy

 

One of the most vexing questions in culinary history is how humble ingredients make it to become some of the most sought out delicacies in the world. The history of Bottarga (botargo or avgotaraho in Greek) is one of these ingredients. 

This naturally dried fish roe from tuna or grey mullet began its journey to the culinary world in coastal areas of Italy, especially Sardinia, Sicily, Liguria and Calabria, where it is called ovotarica. Bottarga is a legacy of privation, when no part of the fish was ever discarded. Yet, when combined with particular local ingredients, it proved quite delicious when used sparingly. 

Its history goes back to almost 3000 years, to the Phoenicians who began to salt and dry grey mullet roe. It is known from Ancient writers that Bottarga was produced along the Nile river banks & Egyptian murals dating from the 10th century BC depict fisherman executing the lengthy process in which bottarga were, and still are made: the roe is carefully extracted, cleaned, salted, pressed and dried. They are then washed and sandwiched between weighted, wooden boards to press out any residual liquid, and to give them a solid, flat shape. Finally, they are hung and allowed to air dry until they take on their characteristic coral color. From Ancient Egypt this farming technique was spread to other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Turkey, Italy and Egypt. Today Bottarga is also produced in Japan, Israel, and Australia. 

Modern technology has not changed the procedure followed to preparing Bottarga: each roe sack is carefully removed by hand and salted and dried in natural conditions whereas the ISO 9001 certification process guarantees the strictest hygienic conditions. 

Bottarga should be served thinly sliced in order to allow your palate to appreciate the full range of its rich flavors. Sardinians serve it over vegetables or bread and butter. You can mix it with pasta and salads or eat it as it is with some lemon juice.  Preserve it in a cool place away from light, preferably the refrigerator, and with each bite remember to appreciate its long history and passion of 3000 years of culinary history. 

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