Mentaiko Udon is my variation on the Japanese wafu pasta classic Mentaiko Pasta. This version tosses thick and chewy udon noodles in a creamy sauce of spicy salted cod roe and tender squid. Sprinkled with refreshing shiso leaves and crisp nori seaweed, it’s a satisfying dish for lovers of seafood and modern Japanese cuisine alike.
I have something classy, deliciously savory yet simple enough for you to make this weekend and it’s Mentaiko Udon (明太子うどん)!
Here, slippery udon noodles are coated in a buttery spicy cod roe mixture and accented with fresh Japanese herbs and shredded nori. Unlike any other noodle dishes you’ve tried before, mentaiko udon is truly special. You’ll need one or two Japanese ingredients but cooking it is easy enough.
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What is Mentaiko Udon?
This mentaiko udon is a creative twist on the classic Mentaiko Pasta (Spicy Cod Roe Pasta), a Japanese-Italian fusion pasta dish made with preserved spicy cod, milk, cream, and spaghetti noodles. I learned that this particular pasta is not only very popular in Japan, but also in some major Asian cosmopolitan cities. Quite a few JOC readers told me that they have tried mentaiko pasta in some modern Japanese restaurants.
Since udon is well suited to just about any flavor, it makes sense to pair it with the mentaiko sauce. The creamy, robust sauce clings to the plump strands of udon, the result is simply noodle perfection.
Why You’ll Love Mentaiko Udon
- Quick and easy! It comes together in 15 minutes. It’s one of my go-to dishes when I don’t have time. I always keep at least two mentaiko packages in my freezer.
- Pantry-friendly. Besides mentaiko and shiso leaves, both of which are available at Japanese or Korean grocery stores, the ingredients for this recipe are simple enough that you can get them at regular supermarkets.
- A unique noodle dish that is packed with plenty of ‘wow’ factors. Think interplay of flavors and textures.
What is Mentaiko?
Mentaiko (明太子) is the chili-spiced salted roe of pollock or cod and is usually used as a filling for Onigiri (rice ball) or as a topping for noodle dishes. This Japanese delicacy offers an exciting mouthfeel with just the right amount of spice.
You can find mentaiko in either the refrigerated or frozen section of Japanese or Korean supermarkets. It is not an easy ingredient to source, but I still hope you have a chance to try it.
I found this online seafood shop that offers mentaiko 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 you know it can’t beat the homemade one.
The only substitute for mentaiko is tarako (たらこ), the cod/pollock roe that’s not prepared with chili. Your young children would be able to enjoy tarako since it is not spicy.
How to Cook Mentaiko Udon
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Udon noodles – I recommend using only fresh or frozen udon noodles for this recipe. The thicker and chewier texture plays an important role in the success of the dish. Learn more about udon.
- Spicy salted pollock roe or cod roe (karashi mentaiko)
- Squid – It’s optional, but it adds complexity and heft to the noodle dish.
- Heavy whipping cream
- Soy sauce
- Butter – Butter has a sweet and rich creaminess, but you can use extra virgin olive oil to keep things lighter.
- Salt & pepper
- Toppings: shiso leaves and shredded nori. They are optional but make a difference in elevating the flavor and presentation.
Overview: Cooking Steps
- In a large bowl, combine prepared mentaiko, heavy cream, and soy sauce.
- In a frying pan, heat the butter and cook the chopped onion until tender. Add the squid (if using) and sake and cook until it changes color. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
- Add the cooked onion and squid mixture into the mentaiko sauce and mix well.
- Cook the udon noodles in a large pot of boiling water.
- Add cooked udon and toss well until the udon is evenly coated with the sauce. Garnish the pasta with nori and shiso leaves.
I hope you enjoy this special Japanese-style noodle dish!
More Delicious Udon Noodle Recipes
Tableware from Musubi Kiln
I’ve partnered with a great ceramic online shop from Japan called Musubi Kiln. You will get 10% off with a coupon code JUSTONECOOKBOOK for your purchase. In this post, I’ve used:
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Mentaiko Udon (Spicy Cod Roe Udon)
For the Mentaiko Sauce
- 2 sacs 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; use about one mentaiko sac (1 oz, 30 g) per serving)
- ¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream (36% or more milkfat)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- ½ onion
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ⅛ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 4 oz squid (cleaned and thin outer skin removed)
- 2 Tbsp sake
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
For the Udon
- 2 servings udon noodles (1.1 lb/500 g frozen or parboiled udon noodles for 2 servings, or 6.3 oz/180 g dry udon noodles)
For the Garnishes
- 10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) (optional, but I highly recommend it)
- shredded nori seaweed (kizami nori) (or cut nori sheet into thin strips)
- Gather all the ingredients. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for cooking the udon noodles. While you're waiting for the water to boil, prepare the other ingredients and cook the sauce.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- With a knife, make a lengthwise slit through each mentaiko sac membrane and scrape out the spicy roe (you can use a spoon, too). Discard the sac membrane.
- In a large bowl, combine the mentaiko, heavy cream, and soy sauce and mix them all together.
- Cut the squid into small bite-sized pieces.
- Next, mince the onion: Lay a peeled onion half on the cutting board, flat side down. With the knife tip pointing toward the root end, make thin vertical slices to within ½ inch of the root end. Then, with the knife edge toward the root end, make several horizontal slices, again keeping the root intact. Finally, make perpendicular cuts down through the vertical slices you made.
- Stack the shiso leaves, roll them up, and cut into julienned strips. Set aside until serving.
To Cook the Sauce
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When it's hot, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the minced onion.
- Season the onion with the salt and sauté until caramelized and golden brown.
- Next, add the squid and sake. Sauté the squid until cooked through, about 2 minutes. When cooked, the squid will be firm and opaque white. Do not overcook the squid or it will turn tough.
- Season the mixture with the freshly ground black pepper and cook for 1-2 more minutes.
- Add the squid mixture into the bowl with the mentaiko sauce and mix well.
To Cook the Udon
- Add the udon noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. I use frozen Sanuki udon and it requires cooking for 1 minute. Dried udon noodles will take more time to cook. Tip: I recommend using only frozen or fresh udon noodles for their thicker and chewier texture.
- Quickly drain the cooked noodles and transfer them to the mentaiko sauce. Toss well until the noodles are evenly coated with the sauce.
- Serve the Mentaiko Udon on individual plates and garnish with the shredded nori and shiso leaves.
- Mentaiko is raw and it's not recommended to reheat it. Therefore, make this recipe only for the portion you're going to serve.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 26, 2012. It’s been republished with new images, a slightly revised recipe, and blog content on September 14, 2022.