Bottarga, the pressed and dried roe sac of gray mullet or tuna, is an Italian delicacy that hasn’t entirely caught on in the U.S.—possibly because it commands prices upwards of $100 a pound.
Takashi Yagihashi, challenged by Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia to create a dish with the cured fish eggs, says that it’s “packed with umami” and “tastes almost like salami, but it’s seafood.” While he’s familiar with the ingredient, he has more experience with Japanese versions.
“In Japan we cook and eat a lot of different fish eggs,” he says. Karasumi (also pressed, dried mullet roe) is, according to Yagihashi, “almost exactly the same thing as bottarga.” He calls mentaiko, the marinated roe of pollock and cod, “poor man’s bottarga.”
He used karasumi in a noodle dish he made recently for a “chef-swapping” dinner he did with Mantuano, where Yagihashi cooked Italian food and Mantuano prepared Japanese food, and it’s the basis for Yagihashi’s “half Italian, half Japanese” bottarga creation.
The chef started with udon noodles. “Udon is a little bit thicker than spaghetti or fettucine, so that’s going to be a nice chewy texture,” he says. After boiling the noodles he sauteed them for a few minutes with olive oil, julienned shiso leaves, mentaiko, butter, and Parmesan cheese, adding lemon juice, chives, and salt and pepper at the very end. Yagihashi then plated the noodles and topped them with shredded nori, bonito flakes, thinly sliced dried chiles, and several slices of bottarga.
Asked whether he’d put the dish on the menu at one of his restaurants, Yagihashi said, “I might. It has a lot of flavor.”
Yagihashi has challenged John Hogan of the new River Roast to create a dish with shiokara—squid fermented in its own guts. “Everybody eat in Japan, but not for the American taste,” Yagihashi says. “Basically stinky, salty squid. I love it.”
Inaniwa udon with bottarga, mentaiko, and shiso
1 pound dried Inaniwa udon noodle
16-20 thin slices of bottarga (about 2 oz)
8 fresh shiso leaves, julienned
8 T mentaiko (roe of cod or pollock), chopped fine
¼ cup olive oil
4 T butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 T lemon juice
¼ cup kizami nori (shredded nori)
¼ cup chives, chopped fine
¼ cup bonito flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil water in a large pot. Add noodles and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Heat olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat for one minute. Add noodles, shiso leaf, mentaiko, butter and Parmesan cheese. Sautee and stir about three minutes until all ingredients are combined. Add lemon juice, chives, and salt and pepper to taste.
Divide noodles among four plates and top each with four to five slices of bottarga, bonito flakes, and shredded nori. Serve right away.