Bottarga ruined my husband’s whole Sunday. We’d met some friends at a newish trattoria known for their lavish, Italian-accented brunch menu, and pretty much ordered the whole darned thing. Passing around food is never his favorite thing, but he was game, spooning a little from each passed dish and sampling. I stuck a fork into a yellow-flecked tangle of pasta, twirled, and took a bite. Oh crap—is it too late to warn him? I looked over at Douglas. The expression on his face told me everything I needed to know. He’s an enthusiastic and open-minded eater, but there are some flavors he just can’t deal with, and fishy brininess is one of them. He’d just hit the motherlode in that first bite of bottarga.
Though he tried chewing on bread and swishing with wine, nothing worked, and he just stopped eating. He picked at dinner that night, “I just can’t get the taste out of my mouth.” If I could have traded tongues with him, I would have, because I’d found my new favorite flavor. At brunch, I’d made sure that the plate ended up front of me, and I believe I sopped up the last of the sauce with scraps of bread. Bottarga, the salted and cured fish roe from grey mullet (bottarga di muggine) or tuna (bottarga di tonno), is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Think of the most intensely briny, pungent, alkaline caviar you’ve ever tasted, dry that out to concentrate the flavor, and you’ve got something akin to bottarga.
It’s not always easy to find bottarga, so I snatch up up when I see it. Not cheap, either, but a very little goes a long way. Most imports come from Italy in the form of a vacuum-sealed chunk to be grated and planed atop pastas and risottos. I’ve come to favor a jarred powder that I sprinkle sparingly into scrambled eggs, oatmeal, farina, and even dusted atop buttered toast. Where my husband shudders, I swoon. That bracing blast of flavor feels like standing shoulder-deep in a salty ocean with your mouth wide open, yet somehow never drowning.
That’s intense for most folks for a morning meal. I get that. I’d never force Douglas—or anyone else—to weather a flavor they can’t stand just because I love it. But for folks who like to start their day awash in fishy, briny, deliciousness, swim on by. I can spare a sprinkle of my precious bottarga for you.