Bottarga is the Italian name for a delicacy of salted, cured fish roe, typically of the grey mullet or the bluefin tuna (bottarga di tonno), frequently found near coastlines throughout the world, that often is featured in Mediterranean cuisine and consumed in many other regions of the world. The food bears many different names and is prepared in several different ways.
The product is similar to karasumi, the softer cured mullet roe from Japan, Guneoran, the cured mullet or freshwater drum from Korea and East Asia.
The English name, bottarga, was borrowed from Italian. The Italian form is thought to have been introduced from the Arabic buṭarḫah بطارخة (plural buṭariḫ بطارخ), but ultimately derives from Byzantine Greek ᾠοτάριχον (oiotárikhon) < ᾠόν 'egg' + τάριχον 'pickled'.
The Italian form can be dated to ca. 1500, since the Greek form transliterated into Latin as ova tarycha occurs in Bartolomeo Platina's De Honesta Voluptate (ca. 1474), the earliest printed cookbook, and an Italian manuscript dating shortly afterward that "closely parallels" this cookbook attests to botarghe in the corresponding passage. The first mention of the Greek form (oiotárikhon) occurs in the eleventh century in the writings of Simeon Seth, who denounced the food as something to be "avoided totally", although a similar phrase may have been in use since antiquity in the same denotation.
It has been suggested that the Coptic outarakhon might be the intermediate form between Greek and Arabic, whereas examination of dialectical variants of Greek ᾠόν'egg' include Pontic Greek ὠβόν (traditionally where the mullets are caught) and ὀβό or βό in parts of Asia Minor. The modern Greek name comes from the Byzantine Greek, substituting the modern word αυγό for the ancient word ᾠóν.
Bottarga is made chiefly from the roe pouch of grey mullet. Sometimes it is prepared from Atlantic bluefin tuna (bottarga di tonno rosso) or yellowfin tuna. It is massaged by hand to eliminate air pockets, then dried and cured in sea salt for a few weeks. The result is a hard, dry slab that sometimes is coated in beeswax for preservation purposes. Not all bottarga is coated in beeswax as some producers simply keep intact the natural casing of the roe, which contains the eggs securely once dried and salted. The curing time may vary depending on the producer and the desired texture as well as the preference of the consumers, which varies by country.
Where the best bottarga comes from ?
From Italy, where it is best known in Sicilian and Sardinian cuisine as bottarga; its culinary properties may be compared to those of dry anchovies, although it is much more expensive. Often, it is served with olive oil or lemon juice as an appetizer accompanied by bread or crostini. It is also used in pasta dishes.
Bottarga is categorized as a Traditional food product (prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale). It varies by region, in particular, is produced in Sardinia from flathead mullet and in Sicily from Bluefin tuna.