There are as many condiments and seasonings in cuisine as cooks in the diverse cultures that use them. And this recipe here is something new to me that I had to share. I need to make one thing clear up front and that is that this is NOT my recipe. This is a condiment created by Chef Jonathan Sawyer, owner of The Greenhouse Tavern restaurant in Cleveland Ohio. Credit for this recipe goes to him.
How I heard about it was from my brother’s brother-in-law. Chris Wiese and I share a love of finer condiments and haute cuisine. And I know him because he is married to my younger brother’s wife’s sister. I still consider Chris family to me as well. When I read up on the recipe he shared with me on facebook, I knew I had to make it and try it.
Now Bottarga is traditionally dried, salt cured fish roe. Specifically either mullet roe sacs or tuna roe sacs. I had to order the mullet one online and taste it once I started delving into this novel food topping from Sardinia. The tuna veriety is a stronger, darker, more fishy version and I confess, I have not tried that one yet. But the Bottarga made from mullet roe is delicious – similar to anchovies or Asian fish sauce in flavor. Similar but NOT the same. It has it’s own characteristic flavor profile. It is truly stunning on pizza, pasta dishes and lord help me, even something as simple as a bologna sandwich. Traditional Bottarga made with dried fish roe is no simple ordeal to make. It takes several months in some cases where salt curing and pressing are part of the process. So I buy that despite it being expensive.
But this recipe here uses no seafood and is rather simple to make. I like to call it “Landlubber Bottarga”. It uses chicken eggs as the main ingredient which get salt cured and smoked.
What you see above is salt that comes from the fermentation process of Red Boat brand Vietnamese fish sauce. It is the salt that gets left over when the fish sauce dries on the outside of the fermentation vats. I like to use a little of this with the kosher salt that is a primary ingredient in this condiment. I confess this is the one thing I changed in Jonathan’s recipe is using the fish salt. That is not part of his original recipe.
Here I have a container with about 3/4 cm of kosher salt where I have made some divots for the egg yolks and I have sprinkled some Red Boat fish salt into those divots.
After carefully seperating the whites from the yolks in half a dozen jumbo eggs, I delicately lay each one into one of the divots prepared for it. If a yolk breaks during this stage unfortulately you cannot use it. It will have to be discarded. For this you need 6 yolks only without the whites. I sprinkled some of the fish salt on each egg yolk carefully as well and quickly followed that up by covering them all with more salt.
After covering the eggs thusly with the salts, I cover the container and put it into the refrigerator and leave it undisturbed for 3 days. What happens over those 3 days is, through osmosis, the eggs absorb all the fish salt and some of the kosher salt and the remaining salt draws moisture out of the egg yolks, drying them considerably. So the yolks then take on a gummy, gelatinous consistency.
The yolks will have a crust of salt on them when they are removed from the curing tray and that salt needs to be removed. We will prepare a rinse of natural apple cider vinegar. I prefer the cloudy kind and pour about 1/2-3/4 cup of the vinegar into a bowl.
One by one, you will want to lower each egg yolk into the vinegar and gently stir to rinse off all salt crystals. Do this for each yolk.
I apologize for the lack of clarity in this photo but you get the idea. Rinse each yolk until all solid surface salt is removed. I like to leave the yolks in the vinegar for 5 minutes so that some of that vinegar gets absorbed. This will add some flavor to the egg yolks.
When all the yolks have been rinsed, they will have a glossy sheen from the vinegar. It’s at this stage that they remind me of botterscotch hard candies that I gew up with. From here, they need 3 more days in the refrigerator uncovered. I keep them in a collander suspended above the shelf so that they dry on both sides. You will want to flip each yolk once per day so that they dry evenly.
After the 3 days of aging in the fridge, you end up with semi-firm yolks like these which need to be smoked for their final flavor component. You absolutely must smoke them. I took a small taste of one at this stage and all I get is an eggy, salty taste that I wasn’t taken with. So above I have some wood chips that I lit with a brulee torch and then covered, creating some air flow with the drain holes in these two terra cotta pots.
I let them smoke for about 10 minutes. To be truthful, next time I do this I will use another pair above the apparatus you see here so that the eggs are in a separate chamber from the combusting wood. While it didn’t get hot enough to cook the egg yolks, it was warmer than I would have liked. But after 10 minutes in this makeshift smoker, the only step left is to age the yolks for 3 more days at room temperature.
Here are the 6 yolks after smoking. The color is a little darker but they don’t get cooked by the smoldering wood chips. The best wood to use for this is oak.
Here I cover the yolks with cheese cloth and age them for 3 more days at room temperature.
After the final 3 days of aging, the Bottarga is ready for use. To use it, all we need do is grate it. I have grated it over a paper plate here and it has the texture of a cured, cooked Italian cheese. It is more like Asiago than Parmesan, having the softer of those two textures and it is very easy to grate. I tasted this condiment straight as I had nothing to put it on and I was absolutely stunned.
This is truly magnificent and jaw dropping in deliciousness. I am not exaggerating for effect here – this is a truly divine topping to flavor foods and is best used instead of traditional Bottarga on dishes that you might not want a seafood taste in. My own test for this stuff was a simple bologna sandwich.
This grated, dried land caviar gave a smokey, salty, umami edge to my sandwich. And tasting these grains straight is strangely addicting, making you want to keep tasting it again and again. That smokey, salty taste is nothing less than habit forming and potentially more than addicting. This find was truly revolutionary for me and for this I an very grateful to Chris. Thank you Sir!! I owe you one for sharing this with me!!
And here is the complete recipe:
- 6 extra large or jumbo chicken eggs
- 1 cup kosher salt, divided
- 6 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce salt
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup oak chips for smoking
- Pour 1/2 cup salt into a coverable container and make 6 divots in that container.
- Add 1/2 tablespoon of fish salt to each divot
- Separate each egg yolk from the white with each egg and very gently rest each egg yolk in one of the prepared divots.
- Sprinkle the second half of each fish salt tablespoon over each egg.
- Cover al the eggs with the remaining half cup of kosher salt.
- Cover the container and allow the eggs to cure in the refrigerator for 3 days.
- After 3 days, rinse the 6 yolks completely in the apple cider vinegar in a bowl. Allow the yolks to sit in the vinegar for 5 minutes after stirring to rinse.
- Place the eggs on a wire rack or elevated collander and allow the eggs to age uncovered in the refrigerator for 3 more days. Flip each yolk once a day so that they dry evenly.
- After the 3 days, put the egg yolks on a wire rack.
- Light the oak chips and get them smoldering. I find that putting the wire rack between two flower pots with drain holes works best because it starts an upward draft air flow between the drain holes that keeps the wood chips smoldering and smoking.
- Smoke for 10 minutes and remove the yolks afterwards.
- Put the yolks on a wire rack and cover with a cheese cloth.
- Age at room temperature for 3 more days.
- Grate over food as needed.