Mentaiko or Myeongnan-jeot is a salted pollock roe, or a form of salted fish eggs. This ingredient was one that was introduced to me by my mother, and this dish is one of the ones that I always attribute to my mother. I love mentaiko. It’s something that I can always add to rice, it’s something that I’ve had with ramen, it’s an ingredient that has both great flavor and great texture. As I was doing research, I found that this ingredient was actually utilized a great deal in Korea, before making its way to Japan during Japan’s occupation of their homeland. The term Mentaiko itself, is an adaptation of two Korean terms: myeongtae (pollock) and ko (child). This dish itself is an example of yōshoku or (western food), an amalgamation of Japanese and Western ingredients to create unique dishes. Mentaiko Pasta or Spaghetti is a dish that uses some ingredients that may be harder to source. If you have a local Korean or Japanese market, you may have a much easier time finding some of the ingredients below. I make this meal anytime I want to cook something quick (like literally how long it takes to boil pasta).
Mentaiko (Myeongnan-jeot) – this is most likely found in the ready to eat section in Korean Supermarkets, next to other side dishes or banchan. In a Japanese market, you’re more likely to find it in the frozen foods section (which is fine, because it defrosts very quickly, and you can actually keep it around longer). A typical box lasts around a couple weeks in the fridge, because it is seafood, I would encourage you to limit contamination. Depending on how many you’re cooking with, you can use one or 3/4 quarters of a sac per person.
Pasta – I recommend something that can capture sauce, so rigatoni, penne, farfelle, linguine, fettuccine. Smaller pastas with textured built in is nice because it allows the sauce to get trapped into each bite.
Mayonnaise – Mayo is a large part of the sauce and I recommend using half generic American brand (Hellman’s) and Japanese Mayo (Kewpie). Japanese mayo tends to be thicker and more savory. It’s a key addition and really makes a difference. You can buy Kewpie mayo in most Asian supermarkets and some American supermarkets in the “Asian section”.
Usukuchi (Light Colored Soy Sauce) – Light colored soy sauce is not typical soy sauce, it’s mainly used for cooking, so think of it as your salt substitute. You’re not going to find this unless you’re in a Japanese Supermarket. I use very little as part of seasoning because the mentaiko itself is very salty, around 1/2 to 1 teaspoon.
Shiso (Perilla Leaf) – Shiso is a perennial leaf grown mostly in Asia. It is a very strong flavored leaf that has hints of mint, cinnamon and can be a spicy at times. I usually use one leaf per serving. You will be able to find this in Japanese and Korean Supermarket, but I find the best flavored ones come from Japanese markets.
Butter – unsalted, about one to 1 1/2 tablespoon melted.
Seaweed – half a sheet cut into strips
Scallion – finely chopped
Black Pepper – freshly cracked black pepper
Cooking this meal takes around 10 minutes (seriously). As you wait for water to come to boil, you can prepare the other ingredients. Once the pasta is cooked, the dish is done.
Step 1: Boil water/Melt Butter. I actually put the bowl I will eat with into the hot water with the knob of butter inside. As the water comes to temperature, the butter will melt. Make sure to take the bowl out before it gets too hot.
Step 2: Add pasta. It is up to you whether you decide to salt the water. I find that the sauce itself is quite salty, so there’s no real need for it.
Step 3: Prepare the sauce: Add about 1 tablespoon of mayo and 1 tablespoon of Japanese mayo, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of usukuchi, and 3/4 of the mentaiko (to prepare the mentaiko, take a knife and gently cut along the top layer of the membrane. Using a spoon, you can scoop out the roe). Save the rest to top at the end.
Step 4: Add pasta into serving bowl (don’t worry if you pick up some pasta water along the way), and mix well. The sauce should look pinkish with white and pink dots all around. Depending on how much pasta water, the consistency can be liquid-y.
Step 5: Roll shiso and chop to create thin ribbons. Add along with chopped seaweed and scallions. Crack black pepper on top and add the final dollop of mentaiko.
It truly is a quick recipe, but it’s one of my go to comfort foods. As always, feel free to comment below on your attempts or suggestions on the dish!