Greek Taramasalata


Nick Roumel

In a recent article I discussed the Greek delicacy of taramasalata. I noted that it was “made with the roe of the most prized of all fish, the noble carp. Gussied up with olive oil, lemon and shaved onion – and lots of bread to soak up the salt – this puppy is addictive.”

I hesitated before calling the carp a bottom feeder, though some species are. The first time I ever went fishing, my Uncle George took me and my cousin Ernie down to the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. We baited our hooks with balls of dough and the carp jumped on them. Uncle George pried the barbs off their mouths and threw them back. Anything that navigated the discharge of the local steel mills was to be appreciated for its hardiness, but not necessarily its taste.

But actually that is not quite fair. There are several varieties of carp, and many are prized—especially in Europe. In 1653, Izaak Walton wrote in The Compleat Angler, “The Carp is the queen of rivers; a stately, a good, and a very subtle fish; that was not at first bred, nor hath been long in England, but is now naturalised.”

On the other side of the world, carp are used in Asian cooking. They are said to have a delicate taste, like cod, or a cross between scallops and crabmeat. But in the United States, Asian carp are known chiefly known as an invasive species, and lumped with bony, bottom feeding common carp (what my uncle and cousin and I caught). Therefore they are either dismissed or re-branded as “silverfin” or “Kentucky Tuna.” I’m not sure that latter name will help the marketing effort, but bless them for trying.

Taramasalata as I’ve had it is generally made with carp roe. Jars of the stuff are packaged by Krinos foods and sold in Greek and Middle Eastern specialty stores. You want to get the red “tarama roe” to make your own taramasalata, rather than the cotton-candy pink Krinos version of pre-made taramasalata.

Like many Greek dips, taramasalata is often bound with starch, such as bread or potato, and flavored with olive oil and lemon. This version* uses bread.


1/2 lb. (1/2 jar) Krinos tarama roe

1/2 small sweet onion, grated very fine

stale, crustless white bread – 4-6 slices, to taste

2-4 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 to 1 large lemon)

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

Black pepper and flat-leaf parsley, to serve


Put the bread in a dish, cover with cold water, then drain immediately and squeeze out the excess water.

Finely grate the onion, or puree to a thick onion juice.

Put the onion juice, bread and roe in a mortar or a food processor and mash or pulse together until relatively smooth.

Slowly add the lemon juice and oil until well combined, working the mixture all the time, then season and add more lemon juice to taste. Puree and add more bread and/or lemon to mellow out, if necessary.

Top with a ring of extra virgin olive oil and a little chopped parsley, garnish with a Kalamata olive or two. Serve with toasted pita chips or crusty bread.

This tastes even better on following days, and is great with iced ouzo as an aperitif. Sorry if you didn’t grow up Greek and learn to appreciate anise flavored liquor and stuff made with carp roe as much as I do!
*Another version of “Taramasalata” is a song by the not-so-famous Swedish indie pop band “Eggstone,” featured on its 1997 album “Vive Le Difference!” Unfortunately it is more about a hangover than a Greek appetizer.


Nick Roumel is a principal with NachtLaw, a firm in downtown Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. Roumel also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/ restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He has a blog at His column appears regularly in The Legal News.