Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Traditionally in Brazil tainha was eaten fried, grilled, baked or in a sauce, and it was the flesh of the fish that was consumed. However, the fact that many of the fish that were caught were gravid with roe meant that a local market grew for the roe, also eaten fresh - primarily fried in oil. The roe (called ova in Portuguese) is exceptionally delicious and delicate, and for descendents of Europeans not an uncommon dish.
Historically, the Mediterranean Sea was the source of the mullet roe that was processed into bottarga, but these waters have been extensively fished, and there are insufficient stocks of mullets left for a commercially viable mullet fishery. Consequently, although bottarga is associated in almost everyone's mind with Italy, and Italy consumes the major share of this product, today most bottarga doesn't come from Italy. It comes, instead, from those tainha spawning off the shores of southern Brazil. Just as most Dijon mustard originates from Canadian mustard seed, and the durum sheat for most Italian pasta also arrives in Italy direct from the wheat-fields of the Canadian prairie, Italian bottarga is much more likely to be Brazilian than Italian.
Bottarga Gold, and have developed markets for the product both in Brazil and overseas. Their market slogan is "Bottarga Gold - Brazil's Own True Caviar."
Bottarga will likely always be a luxury product, and will always be expensive. Fortunately, a little goes a very long way, and under refrigeration, bottarga has a shelf-life of nearly a year. Should you find some in your local gourmet store or high-end fish shop, look to see where it comes from - it could very well be Brazilian.
In the next post here on Flavors of Brazil I'll include a typical Italian recipe for bottarga on pasta.