The Mentaiko Spaghetti is a truly simple but satisfying East meets West dish using Japanese mentaiko. All you need is a handful of ingredients!
I’ve been writing restaurant and travel posts exclusively the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d drop this recipe for Mentaiko Spaghetti in the middle of it all real quick. This recipe is one of the easiest noodle recipes I’ve ever made, and it features one of Japan’s delicious delicacies that travelers can easily bring home. I’m not sure if people here in the Philippines know much about mentaiko, but with the amount of Filipino tourists flocking to Japan these days, I thought this would be a fun recipe to write about.
I personally first discovered the joys of mentaiko in Fukuoka. As one of their specialties, Fukuoka produces a good number of products featuring this ingredient, including mentaiko mayonnaise and mentaiko crispy rice puffs. All of them are pretty good, but perhaps not as good as the fresh kind. The other best option is frozen mentaiko, which I discovered can be found in the fridge section of the food souvenir shops in ALL the major Japanese airports. If you’ve never had it before, Mentaiko Spaghetti is one of the easiest and yummiest ways to enjoy it.
What is mentaiko?
In a nutshell, mentaiko (明太子) is spicy Pollock roe. It’s a spicy version of the plain salted Pollock roe called tarako (鱈子). It’s quite a popular ingredient in Russian and Korean cuisine as well. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the mentaiko or the spicy version of the Pollock roe actually originated from Korea. Even its name was apparently borrowed from the Korean name for Alaska Pollock ‘myeongtae’, then connected to the Japanese word for child ‘ko’, since the roe is after all the children of the Pollock.
As with most other fish roe, the hue of the mentaiko leans orangey red. While tarako and mentaiko were traditionally dyed a bright red, it is not so these days. The reddish hue you see is just the spicy seasoning used to flavor the mentaiko, but once you cut open the sac, the natural light color of the roe is revealed. The flavor is very hard to describe, but it’s got a nice umami, with salty notes and a good kick. It’s absolutely delightful in an onigiri, and equally so with spaghetti.
This particular brand I’m using is from Narita Airport, and it came in a sealed bag within a sealed box. You can rest assured they are securely packaged for transport, though I highly recommend placing them inside an insulated bag to keep them cold throughout your flight. (I always have a big one with me when I go to Japan, for hauling Royce Nama Chocolates & Le Tao Cheesecakes, but this was a welcome addition!) I haven’t bought enough frozen mentaiko to give a definitive favorite brand yet, but I’m pretty confident that any of them will deliver. (Sorry I can’t remember the price though!)
The Mentaiko Spaghetti has actually become a popular modern Japanese dish in recent years, but it’s amazingly easy to make at home. It looks extra unassuming, but the payoff of eating the dish is no joke! I already knew that butter and soy sauce are a good combination, but putting the mentaiko into the mix adds a nice salty kick.
The butter becomes creamier the more you mix the noodles with the mentaiko sauce. It clings to each strand of spaghetti in such a satisfying way. It’s quite saucy when you slurp! For this recipe, it’s important to use good quality butter. You will most definitely taste it in this dish, since butter is pretty much the main component of the pasta “sauce”.
Frankly, I think spaghetti is still the best choice for this dish, but it wasn’t any less satisfying with the protein pasta. I actually ended up using some Protein Pasta from 7 Grains, and it turned out pretty good. So yes, you can use whichever pasta you please.
I have been talking nonstop about how easy this recipe is, so now I will show you in pictures exactly what I mean. The first thing you do is boil your pasta noodles. Take out a few teaspoons of mentaiko for garnish, then place the rest on a plate. (Exact measures are in the recipe box, as always.) Melt your butter and mix it with the soy sauce and mentaiko.
Once the pasta is cooked, take some of that pasta water and mix it into your sauce. Then toss the pasta and nori strips in the sauce, making sure to coat everything well.
The nori or seaweed strips for me is the non-negotiable in this recipe. It gives the Mentaiko Spaghetti more depth in terms of umami flavor, and maybe I’m biased because I love the stuff, but crispy seaweeds make everything better! In fact, I went ahead and mixed more nori into the noodles along with the butter and mentaiko, and then topped it with more.
The next time you’re in Japan, make sure to buy yourself some frozen mentaiko so you can try this dish! I promise it won’t let you down, and no kitchen skills are required you guys. Aside from boiling the pasta, you only really need to melt the butter and mix everything together. Voila! Never had a freaking good meal been this easy.
Mentaiko Spaghetti with Nori
- 225 grams dried spaghetti
- 55 grams fresh or frozen mentaiko, about 2 sacs, thawed if frozen
- 1½ Tablespoons light soy sauce
- 6 Tablespoons good unsalted butter, melted
- Nori seaweed strips, plus more for garnish
- Prepare a pot of water for boiling the pasta, adding in salt before bringing the water to a boil. Cook spaghetti until al dente, according to package instructions. Meanwhile, scrape out the roe from the mentaiko sacs and reserve 2 teaspoons for garnish.
- Place the rest of the mentaiko into a large bowl, then add the soy sauce and melted butter. Stir to combine.
- Once spaghetti is cooked, transfer to the bowl with the mentaiko-butter sauce. Take out ¼ cup of the pasta water and add into the bowl. Add in the nori strips. Toss the pasta with the sauce until evenly coated and the nori strips are evenly distributed in the pasta. The sauce should also turn creamy.
- Transfer the noodles to serving bowls and garnish with the leftover mentaiko and more nori strips. Serve right away, mixing everything together before eating.