Mentaiko or spicy pollock roe pasta
One of the advantages about our move to Singapore is the easy availability of Japanese ingredients. In London, I used to shop at Japan Centre and a few other smaller Japanese grocery stores along Berwick Street in Soho but even these were far from extensive in terms of variety and volume. In Singapore, generalist supermarkets (e.g. Cold Storage; Fairprice) have dedicated Japanese sections selling dried and frozen ingredients. Go to a specialist Japanese supermarket (e.g. Medi-Ya, Isetan Scotts, Takashimaya) and you’ll find anything from Japanese imported fruits, coffees, ready-made salads, hot food to ‘fresh’ seafood.
With the variety of Japanese ingredients available, I was finally able to recreate a dish that I’ve loved for years but have never been able to get the main ingredient for in London – mentaiko pasta. It’s such a simple dish, the only cooking required is boiling pasta! However, in all my years in London, I have simply never found mentaiko sold anywhere. Sure, I’ve seen the instant packet stuff but having used it a couple of times, the intensity of flavour is no where near that which you get from fresh mentaiko. Here in Singapore though, I have found this chili-spiced, salted pollock roe sold in bright sacs either refrigerated or frozen in the specialist Japanese supermarkets mentioned above.
The two sacs of roe I bought were already sliced open so all I had to do was to carefully scrape the membrane with a teaspoon to release the eggs. It doesn’t sound like a terribly appealing task but trust me, the eggs are delicious, packed full of umami. Once the roe is free, it can be mixed with softened butter, mayonnaise or cream (or a combination of all but I think that may taste too rich), and tossed with cooked pasta along with a little shredded nori. In my simple recipe below, I also added a little mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) for a hint of sweetness then topped the pasta with some tobiko (flying fish roe – this dish is all about fish eggs isn’t it?). Other great variations includes topping the pasta with a mollet egg as ChubbyHubby does or with green shiso leaves by Marc Matsumoto.
What you’ll need
- 2 sacs of mentaik0
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon Japanese mayonnaise
- shredded nori
- 200g angelhair pasta
- 2 tablespoons of mirin
- 4 teaspoons of tobiko
To make your pasta
1. Scrape the mentaiko into a large mixing bowl together with the butter and mayonnaise. Mix well with a small pinch of shredded nori. The mixture should pack a punch in taste but season with salt if required. Set aside at room temperature.
2. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions or until it is al dente. Drain and add it to the mentaiko sauce together with the mirin, tossing well to ensure that all of the pasta is coated evenly in the sauce.
3. Plate the pasta and top with a teaspoon of tobiko each followed by a pinch of shredded nori.
Yields 4 individual servings