We’re blessed with a few pretty amazing grocery stores here in Austin, and we also have some great ethnic markets and specialty shops in addition to a lot of locally produced items sold at our farmers’ markets. Yes, I spend a lot of time shopping for food, and I’m driven completely insane when I can’t find certain ingredients despite having all these great places to shop. I once spent the better part of a day on an unsuccessful search for salt-packed anchovies, and I’ve never seen bottarga sold locally, and fennel pollen was a whole other story. The good news is that I recently learned of an online source for all of that and more. I was offered samples of a few products from Sausage Debauchery which offers a lot more than just sausage, and I was thrilled with the quality of everything I received. For my first use of the Sicilian, salt-packed anchovies I received, I decided on the Neapolitan crostini from Molto Italiano.
Before using the anchovies, I soaked them in a few changes of cold water and drained them. Then, I split each anchovy lengthwise and removed the spines. For the crostini, toasted bread was rubbed with a raw garlic clove. Then, the bread was topped with a fresh, Calabrian ricotta that had been mixed with red pepper flakes, black pepper, and chopped fresh oregano. The anchovy fillets were placed on top, and the crostini went back under the broiler for a minute or so. The ricotta was nicely softened and warmed, and the anchovies became glistening. I like anchovies, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of different kinds and brands of anchovies in a lot of different dishes, but these were what anchovies are all about. There was no tinny taste, and the flavor wasn’t masked by any oil often used in packing. They were a little salty, and I’ll rinse them even more carefully next time, but the flavor of the little fish themselves was fantastic. To store the remaining anchovies, I packed them into a couple of disposable, airtight containers, covered them with coarse sea salt, and put the containers in the refrigerator.
Another product I received was grated mullet bottarga from Sardinia. I was inspired by a scrambled egg and bottarga dish I’d read about in the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The Zuni dish is a very carefully prepared version of scrambled eggs in which slivers of butter and some grated bottarga are whisked into the eggs before they’re slowly and gently cooked over low heat while stirring with a wooden spoon that has been rubbed with garlic. It’s then served with more grated bottarga on top. It sounds lovely, but I was rushed and just scrambled some eggs in melted butter the same way I usually do and then topped them with the grated bottarga. I’ll try the very careful preparation next time. There’s a cured flavor to bottarga, not unlike smoked salmon, and it was a treat with the eggs for breakfast. It tastes of the sea in a way that I like, and it would be a nice topping on breadcrumb-crusted, broiled clams. I also look forward to using some of the grated bottarga on pasta. Although this is cured fish roe, there are no chemical preservatives used as it is simply dried with salt. The products I received were really good stuff, and the site has a lot of other great things to offer as well.