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We are accustomed to savoring bottarga, the dried and salted ovaries of grey mullet or tuna fish. However, there is another typical Italian product which can be defined as the male bottarga, tuna sperm (AKA: milt.)
Milt, which is rare and relatively unknown, is now considered a great gourmet delicacy. Milder in taste than bottarga, its particularly complex preparation justifies a high market price which makes it something of a luxury. Like many delicacies around the world, it was once considered nothing more than a waste.
What is fish sperm?
The complexity of its preparation derives from the need to extract it from the tuna as soon as it is fished and to process it immediately. Lattume, as it is called in Italy, is extracted from the tuna’s testicles and then washed thoroughly and cooked in salted water until it solidifies.
Its final appearance is that of an intensely pink-colored brick with a slight smell of the sea. It can be used as it is, freshly processed, but it is more commonly sold drained of its water, dried and preserved in excellent quality olive oil, which retains the aroma without excessively impairing the organoleptic notes. At one time, lattume, also known as figatello, was the fisherman’s reward after long and strenuous fishing excursions.
However, its discovery, or should we say rediscovery, has transformed it into a delicacy ready to play a protagonist role in the dishes of some of the world’s top chefs. Today, it can be found in gourmet food stores or… straight off the fishing boats as they return with their haul.
Milt exists where tuna fishing is practiced. In Italy, it is the island of Sicily which boasts the best production, especially the areas of Trapani, Syracuse, Palermo and Favignana. The harvesting of this precious ingredient is also widespread in Sardinia and in various other fishing areas of the Italian peninsula.
If you happen to be down that way you could even procure the fresh ingredient. It is preferable to carry it in a portable refrigerator and, as soon as you arrive home, to rinse it thoroughly in cold water. Then put it into plenty of salted water and bring slowly to a boil. At this point, twenty minutes are sufficient: remove from the hob and leave it to cool in its water, before straining. Whether you prepare it yourself or you buy it ready to use, you can now proceed in various ways. One of the most popular methods is frying.
Eating fish sperm
Tuna milt is diced and then floured (using durum wheat flour) or breadcrumbed before being thrown into boiling olive oil. Figatello is also highly appreciated when cooked “Venetian-style” which consists in cooking the diced ingredient with onions gently fried in olive oil.
A typical Sardinian method is to take the lattume from the olive oil in which it has been preserved and then grill it. Since this ingredient is a close relative of bottarga, it is no surprise to discover that it is also sold dried. In this case, it becomes a precious ingredient in first course dishes, pasta in particular, which can be served simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a generous quantity of grated lattume.
This ingredient is widely available and used in other countries too. In Japan, for instance, it goes under the name of Shirako and contributes to the execution of excellent tempura dishes, or appears as a delicious garnish for maki and sushi.
If you wish to impress your fish-loving guests with a dish of great impact, you now have a delicious ace up your sleeve.