I was reading the other day that taramasalata (also taramosalata) has become the forgotten dip due to our recent love affair with hummus. It reminded me that I once made taramasalata a lot. It was always a dip I offered at parties or when friends came round. I can remember making it back in the late 1970s when I was first married and working full time as a book editor and commissioning and editing lots of cookbooks. Thus I dug out one of those cookbooks to look for a taramasalata recipe:
You do of course still see tubs of taramasalata on supermarket shelves but in the main they bear little resemblance to the real thing. For a start, they’re often coloured to make them pink (real taramasalata isn’t bright pink although it may have a pink hue). And they’ll likely have all kinds of things added to bulk them up into a pink froth.
The decline of taramasalata in my own home has come about for a couple of reasons: some family members’ dislike of fish; but mainly, I think, because I always have the ingredients for hummus in my cupboards while taramasalata requires a trip to the fishmonger. I have to confess I even forgot about taramasalata. Then I was reminded of it when I went to the wonderful Oystermen restaurant in May and had Whipped Smoked Cod’s Roe.
It was so amazing, so delicious, that I remember thinking I could just eat that; I didn’t need anything else (though the ‘anything else’ turned out to be very good too).
I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to find a recipe for taramasalata in my books, apart from the old book I’d edited long ago; another sign of its waning popularity? I looked in Rick Stein’s Venice to Istanbul where he travels through Greece; Jamie Oliver goes to Greece in Jamie Does; even Tonia Buxton in her Greek Kitchen didn’t offer a taramasalata recipe. Eventually I found one in Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean Cookery book, which was quite similar to my old book, and of course plenty on the Internet.
Since starting to write the blog, I take more interest in the contents of recipes; what’s ‘authentic’ and different methods and ingredients. Of course, things like taramasalata are dishes from long ago when ingredients were just thrown together with no measurements, each cook adding a little this or that depending on what was available, in season, or to satisfy their own taste. My little book told me that some people like to add a lot of onion, while others none at all. I’ve always added bread to give it bulk and form, but apparently some people add potato (I saw this on the Internet too). Occasionally egg yolks are added, or whipped egg whites to achieve a lighter consistency.
The main ingredient is tarama. Hence the name, and ‘salata’ being salad. Tarama is smoked fish roe. Traditionally the roe of grey mullet is used, but that’s very expensive now, and more usually cod’s roe is used.
What really struck me was the variation in the proportions of smoked cod’s roe to bread. While some cooks add just a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs, one recipe had about three times the weight of bread to tarama. My old book used about equal proportions.
So, finally, after a lot of promises to myself about making it again – in fact, since that lovely meal in May! – I got round to going to the local fishmonger and buying some smoked cod’s roe. I used my ‘old book’ recipe with a few slight adjustments.
- 110g smoked cod’s roe
- 3 slices of white bread (about 100g)
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 200ml olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon dried dill (some fresh if you have it)
- freshly ground black pepper
First of all soak the smoked cod’s roe in water. My recipe said just 5 minutes and as I’d bought roe described as ‘mildly smoked’, I did that. But you may need an hour’s soaking if it’s strongly smoked and salty – have a little taste. After soaking you’ll find the thin skin will peel off easily.
Cut the crusts from the bread. I had a 2-day old sourdough loaf and that was perfect. Break it into bits and put in a bowl and pour over about 50ml water. You need only leave it briefly before you squeeze out the water. Then put the bread straight into a food processor. Break the smoked cod’s roe over it.
Put the chopped shallot and lemon juice into the mix. Add the dill and some black pepper. You may not need salt, depending on how salty the cod’s roe is; taste at the end to check.
Pour in the olive oil and blitz in the food processor until smooth and creamy.
If it’s too thick, add some water and blitz again. Check seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour. You could, of course, serve straight away if this is a last-minute thing, but the texture and taste do improve from standing and chilling for a while. Covered, it will keep in the fridge for about three days.
When ready to serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and I garnished with a little paprika, but you might like to use chopped fresh dill if you have some, or some parsley.
I served it with some pitta bread and lovely Kalamata olives to add a little more flavour of Greece to my plate.
It was really good; a nice texture and good flavour. The fish flavour was strong but not overpowering and it wasn’t too salty either. It requires a bit more planning ahead to buy the cod’s roe rather than grabbing a tin of chickpeas from the cupboard to make hummus, but it is quite special and I think almost essential if you want to serve some Greek-style mezze.