A Japanese-invented pasta, Mentaiko Pasta is a spaghetti coated with brined spicy cod roe with Japanese seasonings and butter. It is a very quick and simple pasta, and so tasty. Mentaiko Pasta is a must-try yōshoku (Japanese-style Western food)!
In September, Nagi published her Tokyo Guide in RecipeTin Eats. One of the recommended yōshoku (Japanese-style Western food) restaurants in Shinjuku was Spaghetti Hashiya which serves numerous Japanese-Italian spaghetti dishes.
Most of their dishes are nothing like usual Italian pasta dishes. When I went there, I ordered ‘tarako, uni & ika pasta’, which is a pasta with salted cod roe, sea urchin and squid. It was really delicious.
Tarako vs Mentaiko
Tarako (たらこ or 鱈子) and mentaiko (明太子) are both made from cod roe / pollock roe. The only difference is the way the roe sacks are marinated. They also look the same except for the colour and are often served/cooked in the similar way. You can eat them without cooking too.
Tarako is a salted cod roe so you taste saltiness in addition to the great flavour of the fish roe. Mentaiko is brined in chilli and other seasonings. The degree of chilli hotness varies.
I don’t have a photo of fresh tarako with me unfortunately but imagine the mentaiko below with lighter pinkish colour without chilli bits. Tarako looks like that.
The Japanese word ‘tarako’ means child (こ or 子) of cod (たら or 鱈). On the other hand, the word ‘mentaiko’ means child of pollock. But the word ‘mentai’ (明太) is borrowed from the Korean word for pollock.
I talked about mentaiko in my post Chilled Tofu (Hiyayakko) 4 ways and mentioned that I buy mentaiko from a Korean shop in Eastwood. Their mentaiko, which I used today, is not very hot.
Origin of Mentaiko Pasta
Mentaiko Pasta originated from tarako spaghetti which was invented in the mid-1960s by the chef at a spaghetti restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo.
One of their regular customers brought caviar and asked the chef to make a caviar spaghetti. Caviar spaghetti is delicious, but because caviar is very expensive, the chef substituted it with tarako and added it to the menu.
Since then, variations to the tarako spaghetti were created, e.g. add cream, cheese, mayonnaise, etc. Mentaiko pasta was created by simply replacing tarako with mentaiko.
What’s in My Mentaiko Pasta
You only need a few ingredients to make Mentaiko Pasta and the main ingredients are just pasta and mentaiko.
Spaghetti – I used standard thickness spaghetti but you can have thinner ones or slightly thicker ones. Fettuccini is also good.
Olive oil – because it’s a pasta dish.
Mentaiko – you can buy frozen mentaiko at Japanese grocery stores. If you live not far from Eastwood in Sydney, you can buy fresh ones from the Korean side dish store called Hwa Gae Buncahn near Eastwood station. You can substitute mentaiko with tarako.
Melted Butter – unsalted is preferred as mantaiko is already salty but normal butter is OK too.
Shiro Dashi – refer to the second recipe of my post Stir-fried Choy Sum with Deep Fried Thick Tofu for home-made Shiro Dashi. This post also tells you where you can buy a pack of Shiro Dashi with a sample photo.
Shredded Nori (Roasted Seaweed Sheet) – you only need a small nori sheet. Shredded shiso (Japanese perilla) also goes well as an alternative.
So simple and quick to Make!
Mentaiko Pasta is so quick to make. Cooking the pasta to al-dente takes the longest amount of time. Once the pasta is cooked, the dish is ready in less than a minute.
While bringing water to a boil and cooking the pasta (per the instructions on the spaghetti pack), prepare a mentaiko mixture (mentaiko + butter + shiro dashi) and shredded nori sheet.
When the spaghetti is done, drain and put it back into the pot. Add the mentaiko mixture and olive oil and mix well. Pile the spaghetti on a serving plate, sprinkle shredded nori and voila!
Mentaiko comes in a sack. You need to remove the roe from the sack and discard the sack. If the sack is quite strong and does not easily break, you can open the end of the sack and squeeze the roe out of the sack, just like you squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.
My sack was quite fragile, so I placed the sack on a cutting board, cut it open lengthwise, then gently scraped off the roe. Because the sack was so thin and sticky, it stuck to the cutting board and made the removal of the roe easy.
Alternatives to homemade mentaiko pasta
I hope you can find mentaiko or tarako from Japanese/Asian grocery stores because Mentiako Pasta (or tarako pasta for that matter) is so delicious and it is worth trying. I got thumbs up from Nagi!
But if you can’t find them, I would suggest that you try a store-bought mentaiko pasta sauce or tarako pasta sauce. All you need is boil spaghetti and mix with the store-bought sauce.
S&B and Nisshin brands sell these sauces. The above packets are Nisshin brand mentaiko pasta sauce (left) and tarako pasta sauce (right). You can buy them from Japanese/Asian grocery stores as well as online shops such as Amazon.
A Japanese-invented pasta, Mentaiko Pasta is a spaghetti coated with marinated spicy cod roe with Japanese seasonings and butter. It is a very quick and simple pasta, and so tasty. Mentaiko Pasta is a must-try yōshoku (Japanese-style Western food)!
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 80g/2.8oz dried spaghetti
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 30g/1oz mentaiko (1 small sack, note 1)
- 1 tsp unsalted butter , melted (note 2)
- ½ tsp shiro dashi (note 3)
- Julienned nori (roasted seaweed sheet, note 4)
Boil water in a pot and cook spaghetti to al-dente. I cook for a slightly shorter duration than recommended on the pack of the spaghetti as I like firm textured pasta.
In the meantime, remove the roe out of the sack (note 5) and place it in a small bowl.
Add the rest of the Mentaiko Mixture ingredients to the bowl and mix well.
When the pasta is done, drain it through a sieve, then return it to the pot.
Add the mentaiko mixture and olive oil to the spaghetti and toss to coat the pasta evenly. You can leave a little bit of small chunky mentaiko, if you prefer.
Transfer the pasta to a serving plate, piling up like a tall mound, then top with shredded nori. Serve immediately.
1. Mentiako is a spicy brined cod roe. Non-spicy salted cod roe is called ‘tarako’ and you can substitute mentaiko with tarako. See the post for more details.
2. I used unsalted butter as mentaiko is salty. But you can get away with salted butter.
3. Shiro dashi is a condensed seasoning mixture. You can make it at home or buy a pack from Japanese/some Asian grocery stores. Please visit my post Stir-fried Choy Sum with Deep Fried Thick Tofu for more details about shiro dashi including the homemade shiro dashi recipe.
Instead of shiro dashi, you can add ½ teaspoon each of soy sauce and mirin.
4. You only need a small nori sheet of about 3cm x 5cm/1¼" x 2". I use scissors to cut it into thin strips.
5. If the sack is thick and strong, you can cut one end of the sack and squeeze the roe out of the sack, just like you squeeze the tooth paste from the tube. My sack was very fragile so I cut the sack open lengthwise and scraped off the roe. See the step-by-step photo in the post.
6. Nutrition per serving.
serving: 120g calories: 372kcal fat: 5.4g (8%) saturated fat: 1g (5%) trans fat: 0.0g polyunsaturated fat: 1.5g monounsaturated fat: 2.3g cholesterol: 113mg (38%) sodium: 79mg (3%) potassium: 253mg (7%) carbohydrates: 62g (21%) dietary fibre: 2.6g (10%) sugar: 3.2g protein: 17g vitamin a: 2.2% vitamin c: 8.3% calcium: 1.9% iron: 16%