It’s not often that Greek food gets mentioned on the telly, so naturally, my ears pricked up last week when I heard the word ‘taramasalata’ last week. In a cookery or food programme that is fairly possible, and with the current series of ‘The Trip’ being set in Greece, well maybe we’ll hear a few more references, but this was in a newspaper review. So what was going on with Greece’s favourite fishy dip that warranted the news name-check?
It seems that a journalist, one Henry Deedes, had likened the Prime Minister’s face colour to being ‘as pink as a pot of taramasalata’ during the former Chancellor’s resignation speech. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of all the current ‘Cummings and goings’, my main problem with his piece is that taramasalata is NOT pink.
Ok – I know supermarkets THINK it should be pink but this is another one of those Greek Food Myths…. REAL taramasalata should be a very pale beige – a bit like hummus (we’ve talked about that other myth before. https://kouzinacooking.com/2014/11/22/greek-food-myths-no-1-theres-no-such-thing-as-hummus/.)
Mr Deedes’ article really got me going. I’m not a Daily Mail reader but I trawled through most of the comments on his article – there were over 300 – but nothing! No one had pulled him up on this very basic mistake. So, I feel I need to set the record straight and tackle the thorny subject of taramasalata or, more correctly, taramosalata
The basic ingredient for taramosalata is salted fish roe – usually cod but can be from carp or grey mullet. The salted roe, the taramas, is incredibly salty and in its natural state is a deep tawny, salmon colour. To turn it into a smooth, creamy dip you need to mix it with something else – and this is where the next big controversy lies.
Some people swear by mixing it with moistened bread – I must admit that that might work with crumbly Greek bread. British bread is a bit too gloopy when it’s moistened, so I wouldn’t recommend that method here. Others mix it with cold mashed potato or ground almonds …. personally I’m not a fan.My preferred method is to make a sort of mayonnaise by treating the roe as you would raw egg, gradually adding olive oil until you have a thick, creamy spread. It is one of the more unusual versions and one that I learnt from my late mother-in-law Fotini, who was a very talented cook. Without the need for fancy electric mixers or food processors, she would beat in the oil with an ordinary kitchen fork along with a considerable amount of experience, patience and dedication. In these times of electric gadgets, I use a simple electric whisk. Unless you are making a lot of taramosalata, I have found that, because the amount of taramas is quite small, the blade of a food processor doesn’t whisk the oil in properly – you could of course just make loads!
As an ingredient, taramas is a tricky thing to get hold of if in Britain, especially if you’re outside London. All the good Greek or Cypriot delis should have it and it does freeze well, though once it’s made into taramosalata it needs eating within a couple of days. Having said that, in our house it rarely lasts for 24 hours! It is important to buy taramas that has not been coloured – very often in Greek it’s described as ‘white’ taramas to distinguish it from the fluorescent stuff. You will need really good olive oil for the taramosalata, some lemon juice and a little grated shallot.
In the Greek world it was Kathara Deftera this week, the day when the start of Lent is celebrated with a feast of Lenten food and taramosalata is the star-turn dish that day. So on Monday I was making our taramosalata, following Fotini’s recipe (apart from beating it with a fork that is) and it was perfect and definitely not pink.
Here’s the recipe…
65 gm taramas
10 ml lemon juice
1 dessert spoon grated shallot (about half of a small one)
350 ml olive oil
100 ml (approximately) lukewarm water
Put the taramas on a medium-sized bowl and gently break it up with the mixer’s balloon whisks. This takes just a couple of seconds.
Now add the lemon juice and beat again for a couple of seconds.
Take the grated onion in your (very clean) hands and squeeze the juice out of it into the taramas. Whisk again for a couple of seconds. Keep the squeezed shallot shreds – you’ll need it later.
The next step is similar to making traditional mayonnaise. Gradually add the olive oil a little at a time to the taramas mixture, beating well all the time. Make sure that the oil is well-incorporated before adding the next bit. Continue until all the oil is mixed in.
During this part of the process the mixture will become creamier and creamier but until all the oil is mixed in it will still be very salty, so keep going!
Eventually, it will start to look a bit like breadcrumbs this is when you start to beat in the warm water.
Again add it a splash at a time and beat in well – this loosens the taramosalata and makes it very creamy. You may not need all of the water – you really just have to judge it yourself. Obviously you don’t want to make it too soft.
To finish it off add a little of the grated squeezed shallot and mix it in – reserving a little to decorate the top if you want.
Refrigerating the taramosalata for an hour or so before serving improves the flavour.
Serve with plenty of bread.