“You’re wile hard to buy for,” a friend said ahead of my latest birthday. “So I’m just going to get you some beer.”
Not that I tend to look a gift horse in the mouth and I would gladly become the recipient of beer at any time of the year, I had to set the record straight.
“I am not wile hard to buy for,” I confirmed. “In fact, I’m the easiest person you could buy for. I like beer, of course, but I also like cheeses, cured meats, chocolate, music, books, films, wine… Come to think of it, there isn’t much I don’t like.”
“Apart from sweetcorn in a tin,” the friend reminded me.
“Apart from sweetcorn in a tin,” I agreed. “So I’ll thank you kindly for the beer but I won’t thole complaints about me being hard to please.”
“What about that smoked fish roe that I bought you for Christmas. You haven’t even tried it.”
He had me there.
“That’s not to say I won’t try it,” I supplied. “I’ve checked the use-by date and it’s good for another month.” I didn’t know if this was true or not but I had to say something. “Anyway, I have plans for that stuff.”
It’s not every day someone buys you smoked fish roe and so part of the reason I hadn’t tried it thus far was because I was unsure what to do with it. Also, I was pretty sure it was going to be potent gear and so I knew I’d be eating it all to myself. However, after recently watching an episode of ‘Searching for Italy’ with Stanley Tucci, I noted that Italians were eating it on toasted bread with butter.”
“On buttery toast,” I told my friend.
“Nice,” he agreed. “It also goes well grated onto hot pasta.”
“You can grate it?” This was a surprise.
“Yes, it’s pressed and so it’s quite hard. Think of it as fishy parmesan.”
Now we were getting somewhere; parmesan is one of my favourite ingredients.
“When are you going to try it then?” my friend asked before adding, “You better not let it go out of date.”
I agreed that such a thing would be a cardinal sin and subsequently promised to try out my smoked fish roe at the earliest opportunity, which turned out to be Wednesday evening of last week.
Now, I’m don’t know who first decided that it would be a good idea to dry, press and smoke grey mullet fish eggs but if and when I meet that person in heaven, I will make a point of shaking his or her hand before suggesting we repair to the nearest celestial shinya shokudo for a beer and some cat rice.
Currently though and as of last Wednesday night, I have eaten slices of my friend’s smoked roe, I have grated it onto buttery toast, I have grated it onto rice with tuna flakes to make a bastardised version of cat rise, I have grated it onto scrambeld eggs and I have grated it onto fresh pasta with yet more butter. In a word, it has been magnificent.
The boutargue, salted, smoked and pressed grey mullet roe, isn’t something I would have bought for myself, to be completely honest – which is why I have friends to help advise me as life leads me along this winding path. But after my carby-buttery taste test last week (I finished the block on the fourth day), I made a mental note to suss out a potential supply of this stuff.
Made in France, boutargue can be found across the Med and in various guises. In Italy it is Bottarga and in Greece it is avgotaraxo. But wherever it’s found and whatever it’s called, it is basically the same thing, barring the idiosyncrasies of local production methods.
So what does it taste like?
My own generous gift of boutargue tasted like, well, the ocean. It had the umami of anchovies, the tang of sea air on a warm summer’s evening, the funk of cured fish and it was also slightly salty and smoky.
Now that I don’t have any left, I’m also thinking it would work a treat in pasta puttanesca. Salade nicoise? Risotto? Crushed tomatoes on bruschetta?
I really will have to find out how to gain access to boutargue on a semi-regular basis. And to that end, I rang my friend.
“You don’t have to worry about me being wile hard to buy for any more,” I said.
“Why is that? You’re taking up tiddly-winks? That’s so your style.”
“No. But any birthdays, Christmases or even if you fancy rewarding me on a general basis for me being a good friend, you need look for further than a repeat prescription of boutargue.”
“You tried it?”
“I tried it. I polished it off in four days. I can’t believe I’d been sitting on that thing for months and I didn’t know how good it would be.”
“See,” my friend said followed by a pregnant pause. “Goes to prove that you don’t know everything.”
He had me there.
I don’t know who first decided that it would be a good idea to dry,
press and smoke grey mullet fish eggs but if and when I meet that
person in heaven, I will make a point of shaking his or her hand
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