Omega Ouzeri chef makes magic from leftover bread and intensely flavored carp roe.
TARAMASALATA IS AMONG the most rustic of foods, borne of the waste-not, want-not ethos of Greek fishermen of yore. Acclaimed chef Zoi Antonitsas, who’s Greek and down-to-earth herself, loves the rich dip/sauce — it’s unbelievably creamy for something without dairy, and it’s full of both umami and, though you’d never suspect it, bread.
“It’s really poor man’s food, right?” Antonitsas asks rhetorically. “It’s like they caught a fish, and they don’t want to waste anything, so they salt all the roe, take a leftover piece of bread, and they make a sauce of that.”
Here in present-day Seattle, the salted, cured roe, called tarama, comes in a jar, though it’s a distinctly less glamorous (and more intensely flavored) kind of caviar than most: carp. It’s available online or locally at Big John’s PFI (1001 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, 206-682-2022). Plenty of olive oil goes into taramasalata, too. “It’s almost like making mayonnaise,” Antonitsas says, “but instead of using chicken eggs, you use the fish roe.”
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The version Antonitsas makes at Omega Ouzeri, where she’s been the chef since December, quickly became “super, super popular,” she says. (She made a similar — and similarly adored — dish while heading up the kitchen at Westward, too.) It certainly looks artful for something with such humble origins, with its spoon-strokes of sauce, pretty pile of asparagus (though any grilled vegetables will do), lovely little wild greens and pops of brilliant trout roe for contrast.
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Antonitsas says not to feel timid or fussy about plating, that “it should really feel natural.” Of course, she studied art at Cornish before becoming a chef, which helps make hers look so gorgeous.
She says taramasalata is ideally served outdoors with a big bonfire and a wood-burning grill, with Champagne, “followed by octopus, and oysters, and all the good things of life. That’s what I would do.”
Zoi Antonitsas’ Taramasalata
Makes about a quart; serves eight to 10 as a side dish or salad, with about a half-pound of grilled vegetables per person
1 quart packed white bread, crusts removed (any white bread will do, preferably dry/a few days old)
1 tsp. shallot, chopped
1 small clove garlic, microplaned
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
½ jar of tarama
About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Approx. ½ lb. grilled vegetables of choice per person
Greens and trout caviar, if desired
1. Cover bread with very hot water. Allow to sit for at least one hour. Drain, and squeeze off excess water.
2. Combine shallot, garlic, lemon juice/zest, tarama, salt and pepper in food processor, and puree until smooth.
3. Add in bread, blending slowly, then add in olive oil slowly, drizzling it in to emulsify. Finished sauce should be thick, creamy and rich.
4. Smear across one big or several smaller platters, then top with grilled vegetables of choice, greens if you like and Meyer lemon vinaigrette (see recipe), with trout caviar as an optional garnish. Sprinkle with sea salt to finish.
Meyer Lemon and Spring Onion Vinaigrette
1 Meyer lemon, seeds removed, chopped (substitute regular lemon zest and juice)
2 spring onions, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
Combine and drizzle/spoon over the taramasalata topped with grilled vegetables and greens.
Zoi Antonitsas’ Grilled Veg 101
“I like to cut vegetables in large pieces, so a zucchini I’d halve lengthwise, as opposed to slicing it into four or five pieces. Cut onion into thick rings. Larger pieces allow for longer, controlled time on the grill.
“I generally like to marinate my vegetables for grilling with a little extra-virgin olive oil, chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest, salt and chili flake. I do not marinate far in advance, because when you add salt, it pulls moisture out and can make the vegetables wet.
“When grilling, make sure your grill grates are clean and that your grill has been preheated. I then use an old rag that has been tied and dipped in a bit of oil to grease the grill just prior to adding vegetables. Typically, I like to oil the grill and use very little oil on the ingredients — this prevents flare-ups.
“I also like to add finishing oil, lemon and sea salt after the vegetables have been cooked.”