Of all the unexpected East-meets-West flavor mash-ups found in Japanese cooking, one of my favorites is mentaiko pasta. Butter or cream, spaghetti and...spicy pickled fish roe? If you're brave enough to give it a try, this quick dish could be your newest weeknight dinner staple.Mentaiko pasta can be found on restaurant menus around Japan, but it is quite easy to make at home once you find the star ingredient. Mentaiko is chili-spiced, salted pollock roe, sold in bright sacs at Japanese supermarkets, either refrigerated or frozen. (Tarako, another type of pollock roe, is pickled but not spicy and is not an exact substitute, though it also makes a fine pasta flavoring.) To use the roe, slice open the sac and scrape the eggs from the membrane, a task which will either feel gross or oddly satisfying, depending on your level of squeamishness.
Once the roe is free, it can be mixed with softened butter, Kewpie mayonnaise, or cream, and tossed with cooked pasta along with a little shredded nori and fresh herbs like shiso and chives. From there, the variations are endless. How about adding a mixture of sauteed mushrooms or a poached egg? Check out the recipes below for more ideas.
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
Read more from Anjali »