Bottarga is salted, cured fish roe that is traditionally sliced thinly or ground and sprinkled on seafood pasta dishes. It may sound weird and stinky, but trust me -- a little tossed in with spaghetti and clam sauce or sprinkled over fresh beans instantly transports you to the seaside.
Bottarga's flavor is the essence of the sea: Fishy, but not in a bad way, and very briny from the salt. If you happen to come across large roes in fish you catch, or if you buy some at the market, this is an excellent way to preserve them.
I typically use shad roe for this, but the Sardinians use mullet or tuna roe. You could also use halibut, herring, flounder, white seabass, weakfish or mackerel. You want small eggs (so no salmon or sturgeon!) and you want a nice ripe roe.
A ripe roe is one where you can see the eggs in the sac they come in, and that they are uniform in color. Overly watery roe is OK, but will take longer to cure. The roe on the far left of the picture is over-ripe. Unripe roe will not work -- you must be able to see the eggs; if they are too small, do something else with the roe.
Getting Started: Gather your roe and soak it in saltwater overnight. The next day, get a board or cookie sheet, some olive oil, lots of salt and paper towels.
Lay out paper towels on the cookie sheet or board and then pat your roes dry with a paper towel.
Toss the roes gently in olive oil to coat; this helps preserve moisture.
Once the roes are oiled, toss them gently in a bowl of salt to coat and lay them down on the paper towel so they are not touching.
Put the cookie sheet or board with the roes on them in a cool, dry place. It is not necessary to refrigerate them. The salt will pull moisture from the roes -- and there's a lot of moisture in there -- so you will need to replace the paper towels periodically and resalt your roes. They must always be coated in a thin layer of salt.
After 2-7 days, your roes will be ready. You now have bottarga. The earlier you use them, the softer they will be; early ones are crumbly and cannot be ground. Let them cure into hardness -- I will often let the bottarga sit for weeks or months -- and you can grind them into the rough powder shown above. This becomes an excellent pasta sprinkle.
Store your finished roe in a sealed plastic bag, vacuum-seal them or put them in a glass jar in the fridge or freezer until you want to use them. Do not grind a piece of bottarga until you want to use it. Just like a spice, the flavor fades once ground.
Bottarga will last a year or more stored this way.