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FOOD + DRINK

Cooking with Bottarga Dell'Isola

FOOD + DRINK

Cooking with Bottarga Dell'Isola

This all-natural delicacy, known as the "poor man's caviar," makes for a dynamic ingredient or exceptional stand-alone hors d'oeuvres

by David Graver
on 25 November 2016

It's understandable if you haven't yet heard of bottarga, as there are many names around the world for this umami-rich epicurean delicacy. For those familiar with the dried, pressed and salted roe (or filled egg sack) of the grey mullet fish, it still may seem like an obscure item utilized only at high-end restaurants or available at fancy delicatessens. We've found, with the help of Marc Slakmon, owner of Bottarga Dell'Isola, that it's capable of just about anything. Slakmon's untreated, small-batch iteration bears a powerful but manageable saltiness. It stands up on its own, with a delightful, palatable funkiness, as an appetizer served alone in slices or alongside olive oil and bread. Further, the rich, briny essence lends well to a myriad of dishes. Bottarga, in many ways, can be approached with greater ease than its food category cousin caviar: the dried texture sits well on the tongue and its reputation isn't tied to celebratory elitism. As Slakmon's Bottarga Dell'Isola happens to be sustainable, all-natural and stocked (or served) at some of NYC's best venues, it makes for the ideal entry-point for those tempted to play with its dynamic nature.

Slakmon (who once worked in finance) learned to prepare Bottarga thanks to his Tunisian grandmothers. He launched the Bottarga Dell'Isola company after a chance encounter. "I went to Eataly one day," he explains to CH, "to the fish department. I saw they sold bottarga. I was talking to the fish guy, Peter Molinari, who turned out to be the buyer for all the meats and fish. He also opens up Eataly stores across the US. I told him that I make it. I told him my story." Molinari told Slakmon to bring some in. Molinari, and thus Eataly, became Bottarga Dell'Isola's first customer. Now with distribution through Pierless Fish, Slakmon's bottarga can be found everywhere from Marlow & Daughters and Russ & Daughters to Per Se and Il Buco.

At the start, Slakmon was purchasing packaged roe from a Sicilian fisherman in Florida—it's commonly acknowledged that some of the best mullet in the world hails from the Gulf of Mexico. For years now, however, Slakmon has partnered with his own (third generation) fisherman in the Gulf, who uses hand-casted nets to fish. It's a sustainable process in the midst of strict mullet fishing regulations in Florida, that also allows the team to select only the absolute best roe. Spawning season takes place between Thanksgiving and February. The roe is taken immediately, and the blood cleaned out. From there, Slakmon gets very hands-on: salting, pressing and employing a proprietary technique to remove unnecessary bitterness before drying it. "There's no task beneath me," he explains, "and you lose ego along the way."

The hand-prepared nature of Bottarga Dell'Isola does set it apart. And for those lucky enough to meet him, so does Slakmon's passion for the category and his want to educate consumers. Bottarga Dell'Isola sells both whole and grated bottarga online. Slakmon, who cooks with it regularly, also prepared three recipes for us to demonstrate bottarga's full capabilities. Repeatedly, when sampling the dishes, we were taken by the umami potency of bottarga—and also found it to pair well with both wine and beer.

Burrata with Roasted Tomatoes and Bottarga

2 crates of cherry or grape tomatoes
1 ball of burrata cheese
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of pressed garlic
1 tbsp of raw cane sugar (removes acidity)
Sea salt, cracked pepper and pepperoncini to taste
1 tbsp of finely grated bottarga (prepared with a microplane)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tomatoes on a cookie sheet. Create a mixture of the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar and pepperoncini in a small bowl. Pour over the tomatoes and stir evenly throughout the tomatoes on the cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet into the oven for about 30 minutes or until roasted. While tomatoes are cooking, drain the burrata from the water it is sitting in. Place the burrata cheese on a plate. Pull the tomatoes from the oven when done roasting and let them sit for a few minutes to cool. Spoon tomatoes on top of burrata cheese. Sprinkle the bottarga over the dish.

Linguini alla Bottarga

1 lb dried linguini
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
1/2 tbsp of pepperoncini
2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup finely grated bottarga (prepared with a microplane), about 2-2.5 oz
1 whole lemon, to garnish as needed

Bring 12 cups of well-salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the pasta. In a large skillet heat 1/4 cup of olive oil on medium high heat sauté 2 cloves of sliced garlic until garlic becomes a deep golden brown (be careful not to burn the garlic). Add the pepperoncini. Once linguini noodles are al dente, remove the pasta from the water, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water for later. (Pasta cook time will vary based on the pasta used). Turn the heat off on the pan with garlic and oil and toss the noodles in the oil to coat evenly. Be careful not to break the pasta noodles. Fold in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and 1 cup bottarga loosely grated with a microplane. Add pasta water as needed, (a small amount at a time) to emulsify the bottarga with the oil. Season with fresh lemon juice. Prepare this dish just before you are ready to enjoy it. It is best eaten right away.

Sautéed Asparagus with Eggs and Bottarga

2 tbsp of finely grated bottarga (prepared with a microplane)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 cloves of sliced garlic
1 tsp pepperoncini
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 lb thin asparagus, trimmed
2 large eggs
Sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste

Heat the the olive oil to medium. Add the garlic, lemon zest, peperoncini, and scallions. Once the garlic looks golden, add the asparagus and saute for just a few minutes such that it is cooked enough yet crunchy. Remove the entirety and spread on a plate. In the same frying pan and its residual oil, prepare the two eggs over easy or sunny side up. Place the eggs on top of the asparagus and sprinkle the bottarga and some cracked pepper and salt; We recommend breaking the eggs and stirring it all up such that the yolk and bottarga blend and coat the asparagus.

Product images courtesy of Adrien Potier, all other images courtesy of Bottarga Dell'Isola

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