Bottarga / Karasumi

One of my all time favorite tasty delicacies is bottarga, or karasumi in Japanese.  It’s very popular and well known around the Mediterranean and in Japan, but few Americans know about it.  Bottarga is silver mullet roe, cured in its original sac form with sea salt, then dried, waxed and vacuum sealed for preservation.   The wax coating prevents further drying and exposure to light.  Although it’s been called the poor man’s caviar, it’s highly prized and just as expensive! Each package comes with 2 roe sacs, and in Japan a good quality bottarga can cost as much as $200-300.  Taiwanese versions are less expensive, so many Japanese tourists who visit Taiwan come back with a suitcase full of bottarga.

Here are 2 packages that I got from Japan:

IMG_5233

IMG_5235These are both high quality Japanese bottarga.  Notice how one is long and flat, and the other is short and plump.  They differ not only in shape and size, but also how dry/moist they are depending on how much they are salt cured.

Bottarga is very popular in Italy, where they usually grate the roe into a simple olive oil pasta dish.  Last month I took the long flat bottarga over to my trusted Italian chef friend Giuseppe’s house to have him cook up a feast.  In preparing the bottarga, the outer skin and wax layer need to be carefully removed first.

IMG_5248Giuseppe, as expected, made the most delicious bottarga pasta dish with spaghetti, olive oil, parsley and cherry tomatoes.  It paired nicely with a bottle of Louis Jadot Pouilly- Fuissé.   Bottarga has a deep salty ocean flavor with a nutty finish that is more delicate and refined than anchovies, and more mellow and rounded than caviar.

Giuseppe's fabulous bottarga pasta

Giuseppe's fabulous bottarga pasta

By the end of the evening, this white plate was completely clean.  The dish was so delicious, that we scraped up every last bit of roe possible with our fingers.  Bottarga has such a unique deep robust flavor that it is best enjoyed plain and simple without too many other interfering flavors.

Enoteca Drago in Beverly Hills offers a similar bottarga pasta dish, though it was not as delicious as Giuseppe’s.  Italian bottarga also tends to be overdried and rock hard, whereas Asian bottarga is more moist and flavorful.

Enoteca Drago's bottarga dish

Enoteca Drago's bottarga dish

Last year I had the unique opportunity to get my hands on freshly cured bottarga/karasumi from the renowned Kyubei sushi restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo.  The sushi chef at Kyubei told me that they prepared the bottarga through a 10 step salt curing process over 10 days.  It’s a painstakingly long and laborious process to prepare these roe sacs, but it’s very well worth it.  Wow….this was the best bottarga I had ever tasted in my life.  It was extremely moist and soft, almost juicy, and I could really taste the true essence of the mullet roe.  Deep and briny but with a sweet kumquat-like lingering flavor that sent an intense aroma through the back of my palate up to my nose.

I brought this prized piece of heaven back to Los Angeles with me, and took it to the one person who I knew could do it justice.  Sushi chef Ken at Kiriko.  When he took a bite of the bottarga, he too cried out in joy and couldn’t stop shouting “ume~!!”, which means ‘OMG delicious!’ in Japanese.

He first prepared it in the traditional Japanese way: simply sliced and eaten straight up, and also sandwiched between thinly sliced daikon radish.  The fresh crispy bitter daikon complements the salty intense bottarga flavor very well.  I love bottarga so much, I prefer eating it straight.

IMG_5042

Next he grated the bottarga over fresh seared squid.  A wonderful collaboration of ocean flavors!  Again, this dish worked because the bottarga was paired with food that has a lot of texture without a strong overpowering flavor.

IMG_5047Finally, Ken made a simple and delicious bottarga pasta dish.  He grated the bottarga into a chilled tomato sauce with capellini pasta, and garnished it with shiso leaf ribbons.  This was an amazingly refreshing dish!  I loved the concept of having a chilled pasta with only the sweetness and acidity of fresh tomatoes to accentuate the bottarga flavor.  I don’t think the Kyubei sushi chefs who made this bottarga only a week before, ever imagined their bottarga being used like this.  So innovative yet simple and delicious!  I loved it.

IMG_5048 If you’ve never tried bottarga/karasumi, you MUST!  It will open your eyes and taste buds to a whole new world.  Thought caviar was good?  Well, honestly, I think bottarga has more flavor and depth.  Eat it straight, grate it into pasta, shave it onto buttered toast, mix it into mashed potatoes, or slice it over scrambled eggs.  However you eat it, you will not be disappointed.

Random trivia:  Chinmi (珍味)literally translates to  ‘rare taste’, though it means ‘delicacy’, in Japanese.  The 3 famous chinmi/delicacies of Japan (日本の三大珍味)are uni (sea urchin), karasumi (bottarga), and konowata (sea cucumber guts).  The 3 famous chinmi/delicacies of the world(世界の三大珍味)are said to be caviar, foie gras and truffles. Yum to all 6!!

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Bottarga / Karasumi

  1. Mmmm…I remember having this with Spaghetti. It was heavenly:) I will have to try the other Chinmi’s of Japan.

  2. I did not know that you like karasumi. I always get the best quality one from Taiwan. But no one enjoy it with so I usually end up spoiling it:( Do you know how long does it normally last? I do have one in refrige that not sure if it is still ok… Ok, next time, I’ll let you know when I get another one and will have it together. Did know know that you can enjoy it with spaghetti as well. Great discovery!

    • Yvonne, karasumi can last forever as long as it’s vacuum sealed. Let me know when you want to open it, I’ll be there!

  3. Just found this site while “Google-ing” methods to prepare karasumi (best to enjoy it as is ). Great site and enjoy reading your entries. Will definitely bookmark and check back often!

  4. You must try the Greek boutargue from Trikalinos company in messologgi http://www.trikalinos.gr is the best in the world thats why ferran adria, hose andres, grand achats, and many more chefs are use it. I have taste more than 100 different boutargue and i can tell that “trikalinos” has the rolls-royce

  5. Great post and great pictures! I’ve got a lot of ideas on how to enjoy my Taiwanese Wuyuzi now. I think I’ll try the spaghetti method.

    I have two questions for you.

    1. In Taiwan, many people cook it using rice wine before serving it with daikon and garlic stem. It seems that both Italians and Japanese enjoy it without any cooking?

    2. I have had an unsealed portion in the fridge for about a month now… is it still good? How long can I keep it without it being vacuum sealed?!

    Thank-you!

    • Thank you for your comment!
      Many times if the bottarga is preserved in a wax-type seal, it is recommended to soak it in rice wine or sake beforehand to soften the seal. I noticed that the Taiwanese bottarga tends to have a thicker exterior, whereas the Italian and Japanese ones don’t.
      Although the bottarga is cured in alcohol and salt, it does have a shelf life and should be consumed as quickly as possible. I would recommend a maximum of 2 months before consumption. The Taiwanese bottarga, especially, seems to turn dark black fairly quickly, indicating it has gone bad.

      • Black? Oops… my wife and I just ate it today. I tried a little piece before eating it, and it tasted fine, so I continued on with the preparation.

        We tried grated over spaghetti and garlic/olive oil like you mentioned, and wow, it was totally delicious! I had never heard of this way of consumption before. Thank-you. We’re probably the first in Taiwan to ever eat it this way…

        My wife likes a lighter flavour, so we pan-fried the Wuyuzi (that’s what the Taiwanese call it) in rice wine, which softens the fishy flavour a bit. The one we had was just wrapped in wax, but it wasn’t airtight for the approximately 4-6 weeks I stored it in the fridge.

        Well, it was great! Thanks for the great post, and for helping me out with the “expiry” date. Haha… black on the outside, orange on the inside it was.

  6. Fantastic article! Stumbled here by coincidence of search tags ‘ best quality bottarga’ and it covered basically Taiwan, Japan and Italy where I have seen the mullet fish roe versions and pleasure of sample different dishes/recipes. The Japanese classic version sandwiched between daikon slices was a nice surprise and made my lips smack to try.

  7. Wow, your article is still getting hits! It IS the best article on Karasumi, Bottarga, Wuyuzi out there, however.

    Oh, so on my findings about Taiwanese Karasumi, basically, they usually wrap it in a thick wax paper, which I just remove before pan frying. It’s really easy to come off, except that it requires a bit of slicing where the two loaves of fish egg meet.

    Taiwanese always pan fry their Karasumi in rice wine, but I did find that the flavor was still excellent without any cooking at all.

    I believe Taiwan must have the cheapest Bottarga in the world, because for something around 250 grams (I’m guessing), it’s less than $10 USD.

    • Yes, more people are eating and enjoying bottarga. I didn’t know that the Taiwanese pan fried their karasumi. I’ll have to try that.

      • Yeah! Apparently it’s to get rid of the fishy smell… they put in the karasumi whole (after removing wrapper), and then put in rice wine to half the height of the loaves and let it cook like that until it’s dry. Flip once before it’s dry.

        Normally, the Taiwanese enjoy a slice of karasumi together with a slice of daikon and a slice of garlic sprout (蒜苗).

  8. Believe it or not the best ever karasumi I’ve tasted was from a company in Brisbane Australia of all places called KARASUMI AUSTRALIA P/L it was unbelievable. I am telling you, you have not tasted karasumi like this from anywhere.

  9. I have been catching and eating Mullet for years and discarding the roe… I’d be very keen to get my hands on this 10 day/10 step curing process it sounds fascinating! I have smoking facilities (don’t know if that is necessary) and I’m pretty sure I can get my hands on some salt…

    If ANYONE has any information about how to best cure this stuff I’d be eternally greatfull!

    Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s