My fabulous friend Sharon recently opened a fabulous wine bar in Taipei called Whinos, and I had the pleasure of visiting her awesome little space the last time I was around and needless to say, it was FABULOUS! It is chic but warm, cool but inviting, intimate and private but bubbling with mingling chatters. It was everything I look for in a little-spot-to-call-your-own that’s tucked in a city corner, and I’m totally
envious happy for her. You know how sometimes you hold a little dream but not-you, instead a friend who obviously has more guts and awesomeness to pull it off before you did, and you couldn’t help but feeling overwhelmed with envy best wishes for them? That’s how I feel. My utter jealousy happiness for her total fabulous-ness.
So please apply a grain of tolerance for me at the fact that when she asked me out of POLITENESS (knowing that I cook and all…) for a recipe suggestion for her fabulous bar, I actually took it sort of seriously. I know. Self-flattering little woman that I am… Even though it was just a word or two tucked in a random conversation on Facebook, I assumed it was as formal as any conversation get nowadays… right? And the fact that it took several weeks for such a suggestion to surface in this blog was not because I forgot lightly, but a testament to how serious I took it. No pressure, Sharon. So first I spent a good amount of energy brainstorming on a Spanish dish called fideuà? Or a croquette? Perhaps home-cured lardo? But then I SCRAPPED all that because I thought it should really be something elegant, non-pretentious, effortlessly simple and delicious as most great dishes are, but most importantly humming the same tune as those already-wonderful things being served as we speak. Oh stress… stress is not an emotion I’m either familiar or comfortable with… which reminds me… of what another person did when he was also trying to impress… Tony on his Provence episode.
He was booed out of making aioli, al’right. But he did make this – botargo spaghetti, which seemed to be received (or so it was edited to be) with genuine appreciation. Botargo aka bottarga, poutargue, butarga, butariga and etc… in all different regions in Europe (no wonder they can’t work out their issues…) is actually this – cured, grey mullet roe. OH guess what? No, please just ONE GUESS! Ooh OK… fine! I’ll tell you anyways, that botargo is actually, coincidentally and oh-so-conveniently an abundant local specialty right here in Taiwan (I assume anything being “local specialty” if they are sold in airports…)! We are known for this stuff! Although it has never ventured out of its domain by being a celebratory treat that’s usually consumed only on New Year’s holidays, but what better ways to introduce its undiscovered versatility by transforming it into something completely unexpected?
A simple, yet elegant pasta dish that’s tossed with grated botargo fried in extra virgin olive oil, spiced up with a pinch of chili flakes. Having said all that, many people would categorize botargo as an “acquired taste”. I wouldn’t pick it over my pb-and-j-sandwich when I was five, let’s just put it that way. While me and my other friends whom I know had tried this dish, have fallen in love with the simplicity and pungent flavor of it, I’m still trying to get Jason fully on board with me. But I hope it’s at least for-your-considerations worthy, or perhaps at least inspires some other creations that involves this wonderful ingredients we have right in front of our doorstep. I hope you like it, my fabulous friend.
- 1 piece of botargo (I’m using the Taiwanese variety), approx 5″ x 2″ (13 cm x 5 cm)
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp of sake, or rice wine
- 1 tsp of chili flakes
- 2 turns of freshly ground black pepper
- 300 g of spaghetti (a little bit more than 1/2 package)
- 1/8 cup of pasta cooking water
- 1/4 tsp of sea salt
- 1/4 cup of grated daikon
- 1 tbsp of sushi rice vinegar
Remove the membrane or “sack” on the botargo and grate it through a fine grater. You should have a loose cup.
Shred the daikon through a shredder and squeeze the excess water out. Pickle it with 1 tbsp of sushi rice vinegar and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water with a big pinch of salt to boil. Meanwhile, heat up 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and the botargo in a flat skillet over medium heat. When it starts to sizzle, add 1 tbsp of sake and let it cook off. The botargo should release some more oil and become darken in color, approx 3 min. Add the chili flakes and black pepper. Stir to combine then turn off the heat to wait for the pasta to cook.
Once the pot of water starts to boil, drop the spaghetti in and cook until al dente. The spaghetti should be SLIGHTLY under cooked for it will finish cooking in the sauce. Transfer the pasta to the botargo skillet, along with 1/8 cup of the cooking water and a pinch of salt. Set the skillet on high heat and toss until most of the pasta water has evaporated, and every string of pasta is coated in oil and botargo. Check the seasoning and add more sea salt if needed.
Serve right on the skillet to keep the pasta warm, and top with the quick-pickled daikon.