If you know what Mentaiko Pasta (Spicy Cod Roe Pasta) is, were you surprised when you first saw the photo? WHAT? Udon noodles instead of spaghetti? That’s how I felt when I went to my favorite Japanese restaurant Ginji and ordered their Mentaiko Carbonara (their version of Mentaiko Pasta). Very unique, right?
Let me step back and explain about this dish in case you are not familiar with this Japanese-Italian fusion pasta. I learned that it’s actually pretty popular in some Asian countries but otherwise, either you will have to find a modern Japanese restaurant or you have to fly to Japan to taste this pasta. In short words, it’s not so common served in typical Japanese restaurants around the world.
So let’s begin by talking about the main ingredient. Mentaiko (明太子) is chili-spiced salted roe of pollock or cod and it is usually used as a filling for Onigiri (rice ball). You can find mentaiko in either refrigerated or frozen section of Japanese supermarkets. Typical Mentaiko Pasta is spaghetti tossed with mentaiko, butter and sometimes cream. It’s really a quick meal that only requires 15 minutes of preparation time.
Ginji, my favorite restaurant I mentioned earlier, adds squid to this pasta, and oh my that is a brilliant idea! I had never seen Mentaiko Pasta with squid in it before, but it really gives additional complexities to the dish with different texture and flavor. And the result was absolutely delicious. I was making my Mentaiko Pasta without squid but now it’s a must have ingredient.
You might wonder if you can skip Japanese mayonnaise (a common brand is Kewpie Mayonnaise); however, I really think this is another must have ingredient. I know some of you might have a hard time finding Japanese mayonnaise, but try finding it at a Chinese/Asian markets. They usually carry Japanese mayonnaise (at least around where I live).
I hope you will enjoy this quick and delicious meal!
Please note that I did not use colored mentaiko because I want to avoid artificial coloring; therefore, my mentaiko pasta looks less pink/orange. Also, the spicy level of mentaiko varies depends on mentaiko brand so adjust the spiciness with shichimi Togarashi (Japanese 7-flavor chili pepper) based on your preference.
- 1.76 oz (50 g) karashi mentaiko (spicy salted pollock roe or cod roe)*
- 1 Tbsp. Japanese mayonnaise**
- ¼ cup (4 Tbsp) heavy cream
- 1 tsp. soy sauce – sorry I forgot to add in the picture below
- 2 packages of udon (I like sanuki udon) ***
- ½ onion
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (you can use salted butter, but you may not need to add salt later)
- 4 oz (114 g) pre-sliced squid
- 2 Tbsp. sake
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 10 shiso leaves (perilla) (optional)
- Kizami nori (shredded nori), or cut nori sheet into thin strips
- Shichimi togarashi (optional)
- Make a slit through each sac membrane of the mentaiko lengthwise and scrape out the spicy roe with knife (or spoon). Discard the sac membrane.
- In a large bowl combine mentaiko and Japanese mayonnaise.
- Add heavy cream and soy sauce.
- Start boiling water to cook udon. Once water boils, cook udon according to the package. Frozen udon is pre-cooked so you just need to make sure udon is loose and hot. Drain well.
- While you wait for udon to cook, finely dice the onion.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onion.
- When the onion is soft, add the squid and cook until it changes color.
- Add the sake and sauté until alcohol is evaporated.
- Add the onion and squid mixture into the mentaiko sauce. Mix well.
- Add cooked udon and toss well until the udon is evenly coated with the sauce. Adjust the taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Julienne shiso leaves and garnish the pasta with nori and shiso leaves.
- Sprinkle shichimi togarashi if you like it to be spicy.
* Please use Japanese mayonnaise. The taste of other mayonnaise is not the same.
*** Sanuki Udon has more al dente texture and different from typical pre-cooked udon in package. It does not break easily compared to typical udon and it’s more elastic and it has square shape. The texture is more similar to pasta. If you cannot find Sanuki Udon, please use spaghetti or your favorite pasta.