Mentaiko Pasta 明太子パスタ
Ask me what I deem to be the most delicious in this world which I cannot stop eating, I probably can’t give you a definite answer. So many foods would come spinning in my head like sevens on a pachinko machine. Über fresh sea urchin roe sashimi (uni) over a bowl of piping hot Japanese short-grain rice, perfectly braised pork belly sandwiched in crisp salad greens, timely cooked Kacchi chicken biryani, freshly baked ciabatta with a simple pesto dip and aged balsamic vinegar, otah otah from just fresh mackerel and coconut milk, chilled pengat durian… and the list runs on and on. Ask me again on what I find to be the most delicious dish which can be whipped up in just minutes and the list narrows down quite easily to just one candidate emerging victorious and somewhat vindictive. It has to be 明太子パスタ Mentaiko Pasta!
Mentaiko pasta is in essence a fusion dish – harmonising italian pasta with japanese ingredients. Unlike some other japanese dishes which have deeply rooted historical bearings, mentaiko pasta is a fairly recent invention. Though it is eesentially a 和風 “wafu” creation, mentaiko is in fact not colloquially Japanese, but an introduced “banchan” sidedish from Korea. After being “naturalised” into Japanese cuisine, mentaiko finds itself being used in a large variety of dishes, from a simple filling for onigiri riceballs, to a topping for blowtorch-seared salmon sashimi. But the single dish where it is put in limelight is mentaiko pasta, where it is showcased as the main ingredient. And its so easy to make!
Mentaiko, which is pollock roe pickled in a spice and salt concoction is usually available at Japanese supermarkets. The pasta dish is so easy to prepare, spared from prolonged bolognaise sauce stewing or any oily frying, it takes a matter of minutes, and yet packed with so much richness and unami which makes it all the more gratifying!
Mentaiko Pasta 明太子パスタ ( 1 serving)
1 serving of pasta (spaghetti or linguini would do best)
1 roe sac of spicy pickled pollock roe (mentaiko)
1 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise or heavy cream
1 tbsp Japanese cooking wine (sake, or for a sweeter taste mirin. For that extra oomph, I used ume liqueur aka Choya!)
1/2 tsp Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)
1 tbsp of olive oil or melted butter
A generous heap of toasted and shredded nori seaweed
assorted mushrooms, i.e. shiitake or shimeiji (optional)
toasted black or white sesame seeds (optional)
1 egg, poached or molleted (optional)
water for cooking pasta
The Japanese supermarket I went to ran out of shredded nori, I had to buy nori sheets meant for gunkan sushi and snip them myself! Pardon the irregularities ‘cos I just wanna get it done quickly and eat my pasta!
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta to cook as per instructions on packaging.
While waiting for pasta to cook, prepare mentaiko dressing.
Make a slit through the sac membrane of the mentaiko lengthwise and scrape out the spicy picked pollock row with a dessertspoon into a mixing bowl. Set aside one heap tbsp for garnishing.
Add mayonnaise or cream, cooking wine, soy sauce and finally melted butter or olive oil.
Whisk quickly to emulsify and homogenise the mixture.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain slightly and transfer into the mixing bowl.
Give the pasta and mentaiko dressing a good toss and plate for serving.
Top the pasta with shredded nori and finally the heap of mentaiko.
If mushrooms are used, simply cook with pasta cooking water or sautee them quickly with butter or olive oil before transferring them into mixing bowl.
If egg is used, simple poach or mollet ahead and place above pasta before topping with nori.
For more textural contrast, toasted sesame seeds can also be added!
In fact, it takes less time collectively to prepare the dish and eat it, than to put together the photos and writing this post. So what are you waiting for?!