Certain questions come to mind when faced with botargo: firstly, what is it and secondly, what do you do with it? Up until two weeks ago I did not know the answer to either question. A friend was visiting and she asked, “Have you ever had Avgotaraho? It’s kind of like caviar.” The absolute stupid grin on my face revealed my lack of understanding. I had in fact never had Avgotaraho (Greek botargo) much less knew what it was. So with the confidence that only ignorance can bring, I embraced the introduction to this wonderful delicacy. Under my friend’s adept directions, I steamed a few green beans, cracked a bagful of fresh walnuts and squeezed a lemon. Finishing the dish I gently placed wafer thin slices of the botargo over the top. I lightly tossed the mixture, completing the right of passage with a bit of fresh ground salt. Sceptical as I was about the thought of dried and cured mullet roe preserved in beeswax, the moment it hit my tastebuds I was convinced that the hype was ultimately justified. In Messolonghi, a coastal area in Greece noted for it’s shallow lagoons, the ovaries of the grey mullet are removed, washed, salted and then air dried. After this delicate and controlled procedure is finished, the roe is then coated in multiple layers of natural beeswax to prevent oxidation and preserve humidity levels. Another interesting fact about botargo is that it is famous in literature as a drinking food. According to Samuel Pepys in his famous diaries, as he wrote on the 5th of June 1661;
“So home Sir William and I, and it being very hot weather I took my flageolette and played upon the leads in the garden, where Sir W. Pen came out in his shirt into his leads, and there we staid talking and singing, and drinking great drafts of claret, and eating botargo [“Botarga. The roe of the mullet pressed flat and dried; that of commerce, however, is from the tunny, a large fish of passage which is common in the Mediterranean. The best kind comes from Tunis.” –Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book. Botargo was chiefly used to promote drinking by causing thirst, and Rabelais makes Gargantua eat it.] and bread and butter till 12 at night, it being moonshine; and so to bed, very near fuddled.”
So you have been warned, if you are brave enough to try Avgotaraho Messolonghiou, be careful you don’t end up very near fuddled!