Batarekh is a delicacy in Egypt, made from dried salted roe sacs of the grey mullet. It is also known as the Egyptian Caviar.
Like all Arabic names, it is transliterated in many different ways, such as Battarekh, Batarikh, Battarikh, and other.
It is made in coastal areas of Egypt. It is sun dried salted whole roe sacs of grey mullet.
Origin and History
The origin seems to be Phoenician (present day Lebanon). The Arabs spread it when they settled in Sicily, and from there it was taken to Provence in Mediterranean France.
In a 1386 document, a Catalonian-Aragonese ship captured another corsair ship from Oristano loaded with "eel and bottarga". In 1400, one Batrolomeo Platina says that he has "no memory of eating anything more exquisite", and it being an "honest pleasure and for good health".
In Sicily and Sardinia, it is known as Bottarga, and comes in two varieties: Bottarga di Muggine (Grey Mullet Bottarga) to differentiate it from Bottarga di Tonno (Tuna Bottarga). In Mediterranean France, it is known as Poutargue.
In Egypt, grey mullet was the original roe used for Battarikh. As overfishing depleted the stocks of large female mullets, smaller sized fish are used, and other species as well (grouper, sea bass, and others). Because the roe sacs are small, they are "bound" together to make for big looking sacs. Upon cutting the batarekh, one can see clearly that it is made of many smaller roe sacs.
Here is a picture of battarekh made from many small roe sacs, showing clearly how it flakes off along each sac's outline.
The whole sacs of the gravid female grey mullet are extracted. Often there will be a small piece of dry fish meat attached to it because of the extraction process.
The roe sacs are sprinkled with sea salt, then left to dry in the sun. They are hand pressed to get any air out of them. Then they are put in special wooden presses that have stone weights to squeeze the moisture out of them.
The end result is an amber colored dry roe sac with a distinctive flavor.
A cousin of mine living in the USA has perfected the preparation of batarekh without the required tools: He sprinkles salt on the raw roe sacs, and puts them in the sun several times over 24 or 48 hours, depending on how much moisture they have. Then as they are drying, use a cotton swab to give them a glossy layer of vegetable oil. This will prevent cracking and preserve the flavor.
How it is eaten?
In Egypt, Batarekh is eaten as a delicacy appetizer on bread or toast, with butter. It is not used in meals, like in Italy (see recipes below).
Here is a photo of Batarekh on toast with butter. Note that because this is made of many small roe sacs it disintegrates into small pieces very easily. Also, if it is refrigirated for a long time, or if it was dry, this can also happen.
Resources and Links
- Italian Bottarga site. You can see a photo of how it is extracted from the fish, as well as its history (in Italian).
- Online Bottarga Store. Has a good overview of how Bottarga is made.
- Overview of history of Mediterranean salted fish.
- History of caviar, mentions La Bottargue, the precursor of today's Bottarga, and Poutargue.
- "Botargo" mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in 1661, with annotations.
- Smyth Sailor Words entry on Botargo, from the 19th century.
- Bottarga in All About Eating blog.
- A brief description of Bottarga, at Hormel Foods (makers of SPAM!).
- Another overview page on Bottarga.
- Italian Recipe: Spaghetti with Bottarga.
- Tuna Bottarga from an online store.