Roe, roe, roe

14 May

Last time I was in Roma a disreputable traveling companion persuaded me to smuggle around five hundred dollars’ worth of bottarga back home in an empty… on second thought, you and the Customs people don’t really need to know about that.
Point is, I did it.
And I did it because I love the stuff.
Though that haul was long ago consumed, regular trips back home to New York ensure a steady (legal) supply. As long as I’m feeling flush, that is. This stuff ain’t cheap; the package above, purchased at Buon Italia at the Chelsea Market, weighs in at 0.310 lbs. So, at $79 a pound, the pack cost $24.49.
They don’t call it the poor man’s caviar for nothing.
If you’re not familiar, bottarga is salted and cured grey mullet roe (bottarga di muggine, to be precise). The roe from tuna and other fish are also used to make bottarga, but mullet roe is the most commonly employed. There is fierce debate over which is better, tuna or mullet, but we will not be engaging in that conflict here.
I use the stuff for one thing, basically: for spaghetti alla bottarga, one of my absolute favorite dishes. And it’s so simple to make. All it is really is an Aglio y Olio (garlic and oil) sauce that you add grated bottarga to.
That’s it.

How much bottarga you use in a recipe, to my mind anyway, depends on the bottarga you have. This particular package was on the mild-tasting side, and so I wound up using one side of the egg sack for a pound of pasta. (For saltier bottarga I have used much less than this.)

For starters, get the grater out and have at it.

Like so.

Then chop some (okay, more than just some) garlic, and a little hot pepper (from the garden last year, dried hanging in the kitchen all winter).

Saute in extra virgin olive oil, you know the drill.
Locate your favorite spaghetti. (This is mine, but it’s a bitch to find, so if anybody’s listening, I am now accepting gifts from perfect — and even not so perfect — strangers.)
Why must such a mundane photo appear? Two reasons. One, you must set aside some pasta water before draining; it is a crucial element to finishing the dish. Two, stare into the water and repeat after me: I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water. I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water. I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water.
No great mystery from here on in. Toss the pasta in the pan with the garlic and oil, sprinkle several pinches of bottarga on top, add some of the water and stir it all up.

Then plate it, and top each helping with some more of the bottarga.
Probably the most tasty simple dish you ever ate.

5 Responses to “Roe, roe, roe”

  1. tobyty May 14, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    Guess I'm a poorer man than you, Mr. M. $79 a pound is pretty steep.Yeah, I know, you just use a little bit of it on the pasta,but still….

  2. Uke Mochi May 15, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    Looks lovely, sir.

  3. Anonymous May 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Really interesting post. I look forward to giving it a try someday!

  4. Fred May 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Dottore di Carne: You've finally done it; taken me someplace I have never been before. Bottarga? Never heard of it EVER until now. I'm speechless.

  5. Kate. May 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    i missed this post way back when – but you're funny. then and now. and i have never had/heard of this stuff. learn something new about italian cooking from you all the time!

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