One of my ritual first things to do upon arriving in Greece is to find a pleasant outdoor café or taverna where I can sit and eat a dish of taramasalata. It’s one of the two dishes that I long for when I’m away, and even though it’s possible in America to make it, or even buy a good but still somehow muted jar product, sitting down and eating it outside somewhere in Greece makes me very happy. I know that I’ve arrived.
Taramasalata is made with taramas (salted and cured fish roe), olive oil, either lemon or vinegar, and either a mashed potato or soaked bread or bread crumbs, all mashed together into a spreadable “salata.” Traditionally the roe is of the cod or carp, but now days other forms of fish roe are used as well. Depending on the kind of roe, the color changes. There’s a lot of bright, artificially pink taramasalata to be found, telling you that it’s not made on site, and most self-respecting places won’t be serving that. White taramasalata is popular in Athens now, but I still like the slightly pale, pinky orange, old-fashioned kind best, and I’ve always prefered the potato version to bread. Tarama is, incidentally, one of the traditional foods for the first day of lent, Clean Monday.
If you’re using a jar of roe in this country, it’s probably Krinos brand and carp. So just open the jar. But if, lucky you, you’ve managed to get fresh roe, soak it in cold water for at least a couple of hours, then rinse and drain it thoroughly before peeling off the skin. Now put the roe in a mixing bowl and mash it first to a pulp using a fork then, with an electric beater, whisk. From here follow the instructions for the recipe with jar roe, adjusting your ingredients proportionally.
Once, sitting down at a taverna in Paleo Faleron and ordering tarama, my Athenian friend looked around and nodded. “It should be good” he said, and when I asked why he replied “Look at all the old people eating here.”
Yield : Makes 2 to 2 ½ cups
- 1 large (about 10 ounces) russet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 4 ounces tarama (about ½ jar), preferably carp or cod fish roe
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¾ to 1 cup olive oil
- Place the potato in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Drain the potato and set aside to dry for a few minutes, until cool enough to handle.
- Using a food processor, mixer, or mortar and pestle, blend together the roe, shallot, and lemon juice with ½ cup of the olive oil.
- Mash the potato by hand using a fork or a wooden spoon, and then add the roe mixture, stirring until blended. Add up to another ½ cup of olive oil, a little at a time, pausing after each addition to let the oil absorb, tasting continually.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl or serving dish. Serve accompanied by the bread.
Whether you use a food processor, mixer, or mortar and pestle, puree the roe thoroughly with the other ingredients. The more fish eggs that are broken and blended, the better the taramasalata. Some Greeks contend that taramasalata is good only when mashed and melded with a wooden spoon in a wooden bowl.
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