It is no wonder why the Japanese cuisine is considered a gold mine for some people because of its extreme diversity. In the Japanese cuisine, you can find amazing meat, like Kobe beef, as well as numerous seafood that is used in a majority of their signature dishes. Among these many world class ingredients, Japan has to offer is an ingredient that is often overlooked because it is usually used as a garnish or topping of some sort. This ingredient is the “Mentaiko” and in the recent years, it has proven to be worthy of being more than just a simply topping to amazing dishes.
A Little Bit of Mentaiko History and Other Interesting Information
The Pollock roe is are made up of the eggs of an Alaska Pollock, also known as Sukotedara in Japanese. This fish is one of the many marine fish species of the cod family and the roe of eggs this fish creates is a well-known culinary ingredient. For those who don’t know what a roe is exactly, you can think of it as a small sausage, called lobes, that is filled with these fish eggs. It hasn’t always been an ingredient of Japan because it was a Korean named Toshio Kawahara who was the one to introduce it to Japan during the time when Korea occupied Japan during the late 1940’s.
Although it was introduced as early as the 1950’s, it was only during the 20th century that traders from Hakata in Kyushu started importing it to Japan. After the World War II, locals began to produce their own version of it and called it mentaiko. Fortunately, that time was also the period when the Shinkansen line to Hakata/Fukuoka just opened in the year of 1975. This made it easy for the product to spread to the different portion of Japan which became the reason for its nationwide popularity. There are a couple of variations you can get mentaiko in. There is a variation of this called Tarako and although it is also a cod roe, it is different from the mentaiko because Tarako is the plain and salted version of the mentaiko. You see, mentaiko is marinated in different seasonings to create various tastes. This is the reason why you can see mentaiko sold in different colors that range from pink to bright red. Usually, the redder it gets, the spicier it is. In the case of Tarako, the lobes are not marinated in any spices so it retains its plain and salty flavor. There is also a variation of the mentaiko called “Karashi Mentaiko” and this kind is marinated specifically in red chili pepper spices. Nevertheless, spicy mentaiko is commonly referred to as just mentaiko in Japan.
There are a couple of variations you can get mentaiko in. There is a variation of this called Tarako and although it is also a cod roe, it is different from the mentaiko because Tarako is the plain and salted version of the mentaiko. You see, mentaiko is marinated in different seasonings to create various tastes. This is the reason why you can see mentaiko sold in different colors that range from pink to bright red. Usually, the redder it gets, the spicier it is. In the case of Tarako, the lobes are not marinated in any spices so it retains its plain and salty flavor. There is also a variation of the mentaiko called “Karashi Mentaiko” and this kind is marinated specifically in red chili pepper spices. Nevertheless, spicy mentaiko is commonly referred to as just mentaiko in Japan.
Some Recipes on how It’s Sauce is used to Make Japanese Mentaiko Spaghetti and Pasta
Mentaiko’s unique salty and spicy taste and its soft, jelly-like texture make plain food extraordinary. This is why most of the dishes in Japan include this ingredient. As mentioned earlier, it is used as toppings for sushi and other seafood dishes. It can also be eaten alone raw or cooked while drinking sake. In the recent years though, a dish wherein the mentaiko has been utilized has been gaining popularity quickly and this dish would be the Mentaiko pasta or spaghetti.
Mentaiko pasta and mentaiko spaghetti are very interchangeable because it is quite identical overall. Both are prepared the same way though there can be variations on how the mentaiko sauce is prepared in some of these dishes. Essentially, all you need is some dried spaghetti or any other form of pasta, mentaiko lobes, and some cream to make this dish in its most basic form. You need only to boil the pasta until it is ready to eat and while waiting for the pasta to be ready, make a mixture with the cream and the mentaiko. To make this mixture, simply put both in a bowl and stir until it combines completely. Once the pasta is ready, just mix in the mixture of cream and mentaiko then wait for a bit to let the heat of the freshly boiled pasta cook the mentaiko in the mixture for a couple of seconds. After doing so, you will have the plainest version of the mentaiko pasta.
If you aren’t satisfied with just a glimpse of what the mentaiko pasta can taste like, you also opt to create the other variations of the sauce to make the taste a bit more complex to the tongue. To do so, you will still need the ingredients mentioned above like the pasta and mentaiko. You need no cream sauce or any sort of oil for this variation but do prepare some light soy sauce, unsalted butter, and nori seaweed strips. Once you have all the ingredients in place, start by boiling the pasta until it is ready to serve. As you wait for the pasta to be ready, slice the mentaiko lobes then careful take out the roe inside. Put the roe in a heatproof bowl and then add the soy sauce along with the butter that should be melted first. Stir it all together until you create a sauce with a good consistency for pasta.
When the pasta and the sauce are ready, put everything in a bowl and mix it up once again to spread the sauce thoroughly. Sometimes, you can add some of the water you used to cook the pasta to adjust the consistency of the sauce if it turned out to be too thick to spread out evenly throughout the pasta. To give the dish a restaurant-level feel to it, use the nori seaweed strips to make a garnish for your delicious pasta dish.
How Mentaiko is used in Other Food like the Japanese Mentai Sushi
Before diving deeper into mentaiko, it should be clear to you that the Japanese mentai sushi is not the same as “Sushi Mentai” because the latter is actually the name of a restaurant whose branches can be found worldwide. On the other hand, mentai sushi is literally sushi that is topped off with the roe from the mentaiko in its raw form or after it has been turned into a sauce of some sort by mixing it with mayonnaise. Now that this is cleared up, it was mentioned repeatedly earlier that mentaiko is enjoyed in the Japanese cuisine through many ways. One of the most basic ways to enjoy this ingredient is to have it with steamed rice. Japanese rice alone is delicious to eat but mixing it in with either raw or cooked mentaiko makes the rice more tasty to people.
If you wish to try this using cooked mentaiko, all you need to do is heat it in a pan with some olive oil to prevent the mentaiko from sticking to the pan. Some people even request the mentaiko to be semi-cooked, in a sense, because when it is cooked for a very short amount of time, the mentaiko gets cooked outside but inside it remains raw. This type of cooking is known as tataki which makes that particular kind of mentaiko the tataki mentaiko. You can also opt to try the mentaiko onigiri or rice ball if you are always on the go because the mentaiko onigiri is a dish that is eaten like burger which makes it easy to eat it while walking or driving.
Mentaiko is also used as a spread in some dishes and this variation is usually the preferred style of serving for westernized tongues. The spread is made the same way the mentaiko sushi sauce is made and that is by mixing mentaiko with mayonnaise and some other ingredients for seasoning purposes. Once the spread is ready, all that is left to do is to put in on whatever bread or toast you wish you eat it on. It is easy and quick to make which is why it is usually used by people as a snack.
If by any chance, you are looking for a more exotic way to enjoy the mentaiko, you need not look further than the mentaiko tempura. Considering that most of the dishes that made use of mentaiko turned it into a sauce or a spread of some sort, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that for the tempura version of how to enjoy mentaiko, it would also entail the mentaiko to be turned into a sauce. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the case because the mentaiko tempura makes use of the mentaiko lobe as the actually substitute for the usual seafood used in making tempura like shrimp or crab sticks. Preparing this dish would mean that you will need to wrap the mentaiko in a shiso leaf and then dip it in tempura batter before deep frying it. Since you are practically eating a whole lobe of mentaiko, you should be sure that you like the taste of mentaiko in the first place because trying out this dish that was seemingly made for the people who are crazy for mentaiko.