Japanese-style Mentaiko Pasta is one of the most popular wafu fusion dishes in Japan. In this quick and easy recipe, we toss hot spaghetti in a buttery cream sauce mixed with spicy salted cod or pollock roe. It‘s a heavenly, delicious combination! Ready in just 20 minutes.
One of the unique fusion (Japanese mix with Western) food that I love is Wafu Pasta (和風パスタ) – Japanese style pasta. Today I will share with you a very popular and easy Wafu Pasta recipe, Mentaiko Pasta (明太子パスタ).
Table of Contents
What is Mentaiko?
Mentaiko (明太子) or Karashi Mentaiko (辛子明太子) is spicy pollock/cod roe, which originates from Korea (Korean version is myeongnan-jeot). Toshio Kawahara, who was born in Busan, Korea during the Japanese occupation, founded the oldest mentaiko company in Japan called “Aji no Mentaiko Fukuya” after World War II. He made slight modifications to myeongnan-jeot to adapt to Japanese tastes and introduced it to Japan as Karashi mentaiko.
Mentaiko is often enjoyed as a side dish to accompany steamed rice (just like pickled vegetables), as a topping for Ochazuke and ramen, or used as a filling inside of Onigiri (rice balls). It has a distinct salty taste and texture which adds a lot of flavor to plain food. During my recent visit to Japan, I had mentaiko with kombu from Hirosho (博多明太子ひろしょう) and it was delicious with rice.
There are many different variations of flavors and colors for mentaiko. They range from just plain salted to yuzu, kombu, and spicy chili flavors. Mentaiko is a specialty that originated from Hakata (ward of Fukuoka City) and it is very popular throughout Japan.
Where to Buy Mentaiko
You can find mentaiko in either the refrigerated or frozen section of Japanese or Korean supermarkets.
I also found this online seafood shop that offers mentaiko imported from Japan. The Japanese food company S&B carries an instant mentaiko spaghetti sauce which is available on Amazon. You can use the instant sauce but it will not be the same.
Quick & Easy Mentaiko Pasta
It might seem like an odd pairing, but the salty and spicy mentaiko goes really well in a buttery creamy sauce. The roe of pollock/cod is much smaller, refined, and softer than tobiko (flying fish roe), which is often used for sushi. If you close your eyes while eating, you probably won’t notice you’re eating tiny pollock/cod roe from the texture. However, its flavor definitely packs a punch.
The reason why this recipe is quick and easy to prepare is that you don’t need to cook mentaiko and cream sauce. Simply prepare the cream sauce while boiling pasta, and toss and coat the mentaiko mixture with cooked pasta and you’re done! The hot cooked pasta will heat up the mentaiko cream sauce.
This sauce is not very “saucy”, but if you prefer you can double the amount of the sauce and pollock/cod roe. Don’t increase just creamy sauce (milk + heavy cream) because the balance between spicy/salty roe and the creamy sauce will be off.
Top the pasta with strips of nori seaweed and julienned shiso leaves (perilla) to give it a nice distinct aroma and flavor, just like how julienned basil provides the final touch for some Italian pasta dishes.
How to Make Mentaiko Pasta
The Ingredients You’ll Need
- Spicy salted pollock roe or cod roe (karashi mentaiko) – the mentaiko I use has no food coloring, so my finished dish looks less pink/orange than other versions. I use about one mentaiko sac (1 oz, 30 g) per serving.
- Whole milk
- Heavy (whipping) cream
- Unsalted butter
- Soy sauce
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Toppings: shredded nori seaweed (kizami nori) and shiso leaves (perilla/ooba)
The Cooking Steps
- Boil the spaghetti according to the cooking instructions.
- Make the mentaiko sauce by combining the ingredients.
- Mix the spaghetti and sauce together. Serve the spaghetti with nori and shiso leaves on top.
Mentaiko: I know mentaiko is not easy to find unless your nearest Japanese grocery stores carry it. Unfortunately, the only substitute that would work is tarako (たらこ), the cod/pollock roe that’s not prepared with chili (so your children can enjoy it too). Try the online source I recommended above if you wish to make it at home. It will be a special treat.
Milk & Heavy Whipping Cream: You can use “Half and Half” instead of mixing milk and heavy whipping cream. If you want to keep the pasta lighter, skip heavy cream and use whole milk (or reduced-fat milk) only. You can use heavy cream only for a creamier consistency. The result of “creaminess” will vary depending on the ratio of milk and cream.
Butter: You can replace the butter with extra virgin olive oil for a lighter/healthier pasta.
Shiso Leaves (perilla leaves): This Japanese herb goes really well with this pasta. I highly recommend to include if you can find it, but it’s fine to skip it if you can’t find it locally. Don’t use basil or other types of herbs as they don’t give the same effect.
Instant Mentaiko Pasta Sauce
In your Japanese grocery stores, you might find this popular Mentaiko Pasta “instant” spaghetti sauce. I was addicted to this when I was in college as all you need was to boil pasta and mix it with the sauce.
However, I have to tell you it’s so easy to make homemade mentaiko pasta if you can get mentaiko. So look for mentaiko or spicy cod/pollock roe in the nearest Japanese supermarket and try this recipe!
If you like udon noodles, try this Mentaiko Udon!
Variation to Classic Mentaiko Pasta
If you want a more creamy and savory version, try my Mentaiko Udon!
Classic Mentaiko Pasta
- 2 Tbsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for boiling the pasta)
- 8 oz spaghetti (4 oz, 113 g per serving)
- 2 sacs spicy salted pollock roe or cod roe (karashi mentaiko) (about 1 sac (1 oz, 30 g) per serving; I use the kind without food coloring, so my dish does not look as pink/orange as other versions)
- 2 Tbsp whole milk
- 2 Tbsp heavy (whipping) cream
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (melted)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- freshly ground black pepper
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 Tbsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt to the boiling water and cook 8 oz spaghetti until al dente, about 10 minutes (or according to the package instructions).
- In a large bowl, combine 2 Tbsp whole milk, 2 Tbsp heavy (whipping) cream, 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, and 1 Tbsp soy sauce. Don‘t worry if the butter solidifies. The hot spaghetti will melt the butter later.
- Add freshly ground black pepper and stir to combine.
- Make a lengthwise slit in the membranes of 2 sacs spicy salted pollock roe or cod roe (karashi mentaiko) to open. Squeeze out the roe from the sacs with your hands or a knife. Discard the membrane.
- Add the roe to the bowl with the sauce ingredients and stir well.
- When the spaghetti is done cooking, drain and transfer the pasta to the large bowl with the sauce.
- Toss to combine until the butter is melted and the sauce evenly coats the pasta. Taste and adjust the seasoning with black pepper and kosher salt.
- Serve onto individual plates. Roll up a stack of shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) and cut them into thin strips. Garnish the Mentaiko Pasta with the julienned shiso and shredded nori seaweed (kizami nori). Enjoy!
- Unfortunately, this dish doesn‘t reheat well from leftovers. If you reheat mentaiko, the fish eggs will overcook.