The name of the roes
Bottarga is a salted and dried fish roe, traditionally from Sardinia and Sicily. Originally, mullet or tuna was used, salted and air-dried.
Bottarga is more often than not sold in a single piece still in its roe sack, which should be peeled away before using.
The imported version is often rock hard and can be grated to a fine powder. The flavour is more intense and to be used sparingly. Another version has the sack semi-dried and firm, which can be sliced thinly with a kitchen knife. It is less salty and more delicate.
I use an Australian version, produced from local grey mullet. This is the semi-dried kind, made for slicing, but if I intend to grate it, I will put it in the freezer to firm it up.
One of my favourite things to eat at the moment – actually my favourite pasta of all time, except maybe spaghetti carbonara – is bottarga grated over spaghetti with a little bit of oil. This can also be nice with a little garlic and chilli warmed in oil before being tossed through.
The bottarga in this salad replaces salt for seasoning and brings a rounded seafood flavour. It is not unlike sea urchin roe, and there is no mistaking it is there. If you can’t come by bottarga, you could also mince an anchovy or two for a similar effect.
This salad is incredibly refreshing – seasoned with fennel seeds and chilli and parmesan, which is a hybridised Sardinian combination – and takes added complexity from the bottarga.
It could be tempting to add other raw vegetables, but it is important to keep this simple. It is also key that you put this salad together at the last minute. It becomes sodden very quickly.
The cos baby lettuce used in the other salad is not strong on flavour but has a little more than iceberg and I prefer the texture.
I like to use yoghurt as a dressing for its sharpness – it’s quite refreshing, and better in summer than an egg-based dressing. Because it is already quite acidic, it just needs to be topped up with a little lemon or lime.
In this recipe, I use a small amount of garlic and green chilli and a little coriander, which I think work well together. This works as a stand-alone salad, but it could also be served with a simple grilled chicken. It would also be quite nice as a refreshing relief alongside a complex Indian curry.
Shaved fennel and celery salad with bottarga
If you would prefer a vegetarian version of this recipe omit the bottarga and go with the toasted fennel seeds – equally delicious and somewhat easier to source.
– 15g bottarga or ½ tsp fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
– ½ bulb fennel
– 2 tender inner stalks of celery
– 20g parmesan
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– zest of ½ lemon
– pinch dried mild chilli powder
If you are using bottarga, peel away its wax coating and place it in the freezer – this keeps it firm and makes it easier to grate.
Slice the fennel and celery very finely on a mandolin. Shave the parmesan with a vegetable peeler and toss it together with the fennel, celery and olive oil.
Arrange the salad on a serving plate and finely grate the zest of half a lemon over the salad, followed by the finely grated bottarga (or fennel seeds), and a pinch of chilli.
Cos and pistachio nut salad with yoghurt dressing
– 2 baby cos lettuces
– 1 long green chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
– sliver of garlic, about 1/6th of a clove
– 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
– ½ cup yoghurt
– 2 tsp lemon juice
– 2 tbsp pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
Pull off the loose, older leaves from the lettuces and return to the fridge for later use. Trim the stem but keep the leaves attached. Rinse and dry the lettuce heads.
Cut the heads into quarters lengthways. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, pound the chilli, garlic, coriander and a good pinch of salt until it is reduced to a rough paste. Stir the paste into the yoghurt. Add the lemon juice and taste to check the seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.
Lay the lettuce wedges onto a serving plate and spoon the dressing over them. Finish by finely grating the pistachio nuts over the dressed lettuce.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 5, 2015 as "The name of the roes". Subscribe here.