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BOTTARGA, SARDINIAN CAVIAR TOO HARD TO FIND

As chef/author Anthony Bourdain put it, “While there's bottarga made elsewhere from other fish, I think this [Sardinian bottarga] is the best in the world.” A Mediterranean delicacy, bottarga is the roe pouch of the grey mullet salted, pressed, air-dried, and then coated to be preserved. It is prepared today as it was 3,000 years ago and it has a bright, briny flavor. “One of my favorite, if not my single favorite pasta ever” continues Bourdain, while tasting spaghetti with bottarga and artichokes. (travel channel)

It can be used in a simple dish or a trendy amuse-bouche. You can shave it or grate it over pasta, rice, flatbread, potatoes, eggs and bitter vegetables; you can mix it with butter or olive oil to make a sauce; but the way it is most used in the island of Sardinia is with spaghetti or with fregola, Sardinian couscous.

One problem: why is this wonderful delicacy so hard to find here in the States? Granted, Sardinia cannot produce extravagant amounts of something so precious but with all the foodies in the Tri-State area you would think it would be easier to find. In Manhattan,: you can go to Buon Italia (Chelsea Market), Di PaloIl Buco, and a few more places where you can buy it but it is the kind of thing you would want in all supermarkets. Why?

Because you only need to boil water in a pot, throw in thin spaghetti that cook in 8 or 9 minutes, sizzle some garlic, thinly sliced bottarga, a little peperoncino in extra-virgin olive oil, take a couple of spoons of hot water from the pot and melt some shaved bottarga in it, strain the pasta and mix everything together. A sprinkle of grated bottarga on top, and it’s done, in 15 minutes. It takes more time to get the menus, decide what to eat, make the phone call, wait for delivery, and bottarga does not taste like anything you can have delivered. If you wish, you can throw sliced artichokes hearts with the garlic before you sizzle it, chopped parsley in the end, and that makes the spaghetti unbelievably good.

For three thousand years grey mullets in the marshlands of Cabras have been caught by fishermen’ nets and their roe transformed into the amber coloured delicacy we know as bottarga. Cabras is a town in the Province of Oristano located close to Tharros, an ancient Phoenician-Roman Port, and a renown archeological site.

Around 1000 BC, Phoenician traders began moving to coastal areas in Sardinia, and some historians believe they brought bottarga to the island. We know it was also used by the ancient Egyptians because it was found in some pyramids. Today, bottarga is produced in many Sardinian towns, as well as in Greece, Spain, and in the Middle East.

Having bottarga in our pantry should be a must. It lasts a very long time, it’s a bit pricey but a little goes a long way.

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Map of Sardinia: file from the Wikimedia Commons.