Full disclosure: I have a fetish for taramasalata, and eat it at least twice a week. Up to now I’ve been content with whichever sloppy pink concoction I happen to pick up from the supermarket. But the interesting thing about blind tasting products against each other is this: you can think you’re happy with a brand until you compare it with others. Then any imperfections are cruelly exposed. This week’s winner, for instance, beat all the products I normally consume with an original take on the classic smoked cod’s roe/olive oil/breadcrumbs/garlic/lemon juice recipe.
Tasting panels are a bit like making a movie – casting is everything. Taramasalata is a Graeco-Turkish speciality so this called for our eastern Mediterranean bureau. When we summoned the Greek Magnate (GM) and the Lebanese Gastronaut (LG), they came with alacrity. GM declared he had an open mind about the various products since, “there’s no authentic recipe – you do it your own way”. At this point his eyes met those of a sleek urban fox peering at us from the garden. But, with the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Gluttonous Pig (GP), this was to be a panel of only four and we sent the animal on its way.
We were a mite disappointed by Tesco’s Taramasalata: “bland leading the bland”(GP); “over blended”(GM). Perhaps its none-too-generous 8 per cent cod’s roe prevented it delivering enough flavour. We had a similar criticism of the smooth but fainthearted tara sent to us by The Real Greek, a chain of Greek restaurants across London: “not fishy enough”(GP); “is this mayonnaise?”(LG). But the product that really surprised us was Essential Waitrose Taramasalata: “old cardboard”(GP); “stale taste”(DL); “not my cup of tea”(LG). It came bottom by some margin, making us wonder if we’d happened to get one of a substandard batch.
The supermarket taras were not only quite runny but also uniformly pink from the frankly, peculiar addition of beetroot juice. The best was Asda’s, one of our runners-up: “pleasant”(DL); “more like the real thing – bring on the grilled octopus”(GM). We thought that its judicious use of onion powder gave it a good kick. We also liked the more pungent, oily tara from the Turkish restaurant Sedir (does its superior performance over The Real Greek tell us anything about their respective economies?): “very olivey”(GP); “good flavour”(GM).
Now to our winner on the day – a pale white tara that comes from H. Forman & Son in a spring-sealed Kilner jar: “authentic”(DL); “smooth, excellent”(LG); “strong taste of roe – this is a taverna flavour”(GM); “a real colour”(GP). So taken was the panel with Formans’ recipe that, the tasting completed, we toasted some brown pitta bread and polished off the jar with a glass of white burgundy.
Later, I telephoned Lloyd Hardwick, Formans’ director of operations, to find out more about the tara. Its ingredients are smoked cod’s roe, mascarpone, garlic, yoghurt, lemon juice and seasoning. Hardwick says that the unusual addition of mascarpone makes it silky smooth while also helping to stabilise the blend. And the yoghurt gives it a sharpness, which balances the saltiness. What about the cod’s roe? “We buy it from Iceland – IQF Grade A” – this means Independently Quickly Frozen, and is better quality than bulk-bought roe. Then it is smoked in the company’s east London smokery.
In summary, Formans buys the best raw materials and then controls the process carefully. And it shows – this is a first-class product. Hardwick told me that it’s difficult to sell much of it because it’s not pink. But why should our tara be the same colour as our newspaper? The good news is that Formans’ tara is available for home delivery. We highly recommend it.
H. Forman & Son Fresh Taramasalata, £6.95 for 225g (serves three to five)
Stour Road, Fish Island, London E3
For online ordering visit www.formanandfield.com