The Taste of the Sea

Michael Kraus

Last summer I stood in my Brooklyn kitchen vigorously grating a block of bottarga—the traditional Mediterranean specialty of cured fish roe—over a tangle of steaming spaghetti. As amber flakes hit the pasta, they released a sweet seawater aroma. I twirled a forkful and took a bite, savoring the umami-rich flavor and reminiscing about meals I'd enjoyed in Sardinia. But this roe was from much closer waters. Down in Florida, Seth Cripe, 35, has been producing sustainable American bottarga since 2007. He founded the Anna Maria Fish Company after learning that much of the Florida Gulf's grey mullet roe was being exported to the Mediterranean, where it was processed and sold back at a healthy profit. Each December, his fishermen take to the sea as cold fronts spur migrating mullet to the surface. They net the fish and harvest their roe, curing it for eight to ten hours in kosher salt before rinsing it, pressing it, and setting it out on wooden racks to air-dry The resulting lobes are waxy and dense, with a concentrated yet elegant fish flavor. Razor-thin slices transform scrambled eggs, melting curls elevate roasted kabocha squash, and shaved flecks add pungent personality to winter greens. It's so tasty, Cripe is working on exporting it—to Sardinia.

A three-ounce lobe is $42 at cortezbottarga.com