My first encounter with Bottarga was on the Island of Favignana, one of the Egadi islands, off the Sicilian Coast. It was 1994 and I wasn’t a very adventurous eater. Additionally, all over the island they had posters of the mattanza or the annual slaughter or tuna in the Tonnara. This event takes place in May-June of each year and has been celebrated on Favignana for many years. While I appreciate tradition and local lore as much as the next person, the whole thing was a little gory for my taste and kept me away from this delicacy for years. Luckily for me, a friend insisted that I try Bottarga when we were in Sardinia years later. I remember the fishiness of that first bite but then I grew to appreciate its delicate and subtle flavors. Over the years I have eaten Bottarga a number of times and had even brought home various vials of it for my parents to try. I confess until recently I didn’t know the difference between Bottarga di Muggine and Bottarga di Tonno. The first is roe from gray mullet while the second comes from Tuna.
Muggine generally comes from Sardinia while Bottarga di Tonno is largely from Sicily. Both are considered to be delicacies. I recently made spaghetti with bottarga at home, a very traditional dish but apparently hip chefs in the States generally use bottarga as a condiment. Either way, it is worth a try.
You can find bottarga on the menus of a few restaurants and can buy it from www.gustiamo.com, an interesting Italian food website and from Buonitalia, a specialty shop in the Chelsea market where many restaurateurs order their food. I also highly recommend a trip to the Egadi which lie off the Sicilian coast between Trapani and Marsala. There are incredible temples to visit at Erice and Selinute. Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo make up the Egadi archipelago. Marettimo was my favorite of the three. I remember landing on a beach which had no footprints. It was thrilling and rare. I collected four kilos of rocks that day. A bit heavy in our dinghy or tender.