Butarga - The essence of fish and sea combined into one

Intense, piquant and saltier flavours of dried fish roe will impress only first-class hedonists. An extremely delicate extraction procedure coupled with special preparation and its exclusively seasonal nature contribute to its charm. Being a Mediterranean delicacy, butarga is as ancient as fishing boats, while at first it was the fishermen who used it as food who recognised its culinary value. This fishing feast then moves from trawls to restaurants where it’s transformed into an expensive delicacy you can’t get your hands on that easily.

Image author: Thinkstock

Roe stemming from different fish is used to make butarga. The mullet, tuna and swordfish butarga is the most famous, but you can also run into John Dory, dentex or monkfish butarga. It’s extracted during spawning season and late summer to early winter is the time when butarga is in abundance. After salting and drying, smaller quantities of butarga are most commonly grated onto pasta or risottos prior to serving while the dish is still hot. As a culinary aphrodisiac butarga can be served with oysters and champagne. 


The unbreakable bond between Kornati, the sea, Murter and a bit more sea gave rise to the culinary story of family-run restaurant Boba whose island gastronomy captured the attention of renowned international guides ranging from Michelin to Gault&Millau. Last year Vjeko Bašić, who’s the owner, head chef and a passionate foodie first and foremost, was proclaimed Croatia’s best chef by the French guide Gault&Millau. If not in the kitchen or getting the ingredients, Vjeko Bašić frequently goes fishing. Mullet spawning season is currently in full swing and they make mullet botarga at Bobo.

We mostly prepare our butarga using mullets, John Dory or dentex, but we prefer mullet butarga, especially now in autumn when it’s their spawning season. First we remove the butarga from the intestines, then it’s salted and placed in the refrigerator. Salted butarga is left to stand in the refrigerator for two to three days so the salt can extract the excess water. After that it’s aired in bora for four to five days or longer, depending on the weather. Once mullet butarga dries, it’s rather small and you only get 10 to 15 grams. Butarga possesses a strong, metallic taste that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. You can put it on a bruschetta with a few drops of olive oil, while we use it to prepare pasta on fish stock. We make the fish stock using assorted fish. Then we put finely chopped garlic in olive oil, add the fish stock and reduce it. We cook the pasta separately until it’s half done and it would be best to use spaghettini or tagliolini. We place the pasta in the pan with the stock, grate some butarga right at the very end and season with a bit of salt and pepper.”


With a view of the sea, situated right next to the sea and sea specialties on your plate, restaurant Kornat, one of Zadar’s most famous restaurants, is constantly coming up with a very precise culinary concept. With fish specialties and local wines you’ll get to experience the true culinary hedonism of the Adriatic. When butarga is available, they also prepare it at Kornat. We talked about it in more detail with restaurant manager Sandra Petričić.

Botarga is fish roe. It’s obtained by carefully removing botarga together with the placenta so as not to damage it while cleaning the fish. It’s salted using sea salt and is left to stand for a couple of days to dehydrate so it can be grated afterwards. It’s salty and characterised by a pronounced fish flavour. It’s most commonly used grated onto fish risottos or pasta. We prepare homemade tagliatelle with warty venus and botarga. We sauté a clove of unpeeled garlic (crushed) in olive oil and remove it from the oil once it turns dark. We add the warty venus and some white wine. Then we turn up the heat to reduce the wine, add some fish stock and finely chopped parsley. We add the al dente tagliatelle, stir them a couple of time in the pan. When serving them on a place, we grate some botarga over the hot pasta.”


You can’t taste this rate of the sea 'waves' delicacy all year round. Apart from its small quantities, the main secret is that fishermen sell it quite rarely because usually want to keep what little they managed to catch during autumn and winter for themselves. The very few persistent restaurants that do venture to prepare it usually either catch it on their own or they’re on very good terms with the local fishermen.

If you happen to run into butarga, be sure to give it a try.