Noodles flecked with Mentaiko roe – the plate is fairly dry because everything is stuck to the noodles
I’ve been wanting to do Mentaiko pasta ever since Joone! introduced it to me on a visit to the now-defunct Le Papillon at Red Dot Design Museum. Since I had a very small group of friends over I decided to, finally, make a Mentaiko pasta.
There were a lot of considerations I made (mainly because I have a long commute to and from work), from the type of pasta to a recipe that looks credible enough. Believe me, for this one lunch, I had 2 days of dinners with different versions of Mentaiko pasta, each made from a recipe that I selected from a multitude of bloggers and recipe sites.
While it will be a long time before I do another pasta recipe, I liked the result of my recipe: my friends loved it and asked for it.
Folded, not stirred
Consider the Mentaiko; originated from Korea, the name itself is a Korean-Japanese hybrid. It is salty with a spiciness that has the same flavor profile the Korean chilli powder Gochu Garu used in Kimchi. The question here is whether you want the spicy salty fishy taste to be prominent or do you just want a spicy salty fishy background. Because I like the taste of Mentaiko and it’s so gorram expensive, I want the taste to be prominent.
Consider the pasta; it seems that a lot of people like to use long extruded pasta like Angel Hair, Spaghetti etc but I find that they can’t hold creamy sauce well. My preference would be a broad flat noodle like the Pappardelle or the Tagliatelle or, because this was available at the shops, the Bavette. Bits of roe stuck to the noodle, much like flypaper. Without the nasty bits.
And the recipes online, they are legion but you can basically break them down into 3 categories: Japanese Mayonnaise-based, Cream- or butter-based and finally the Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink.
I tried the Mayo versions which were documented by Joone!, Weylin, Aun, JW and Colin. I rejected them all because the Kewpie Japanese Mayo smothers the Mentaiko and all I get is spicy mayo and I find the taste lacking in structure. Face it, you’re just eating noodles with salty mayo. Ew.
Of particular note is Mervyn Phan’s recipe which is a tragic watery mess.
For those who choose the Path of the Japanese Mayonnaise, Kewpie also produces Mentaiko Mayonnaise (available at Takashimaya Cold Storage), so you can actually save yourself some trouble.
FYI: Mentaiko Mayonnaise is fantastic with Fried Chicken Wings.
Tan Hsueh Yun’s version of Mentaiko Pasta is a Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of recipe. Let’s just say that in the world of elegant modern Japanese cuisine, she is no Harumi Kurihara.
Cream and butter-based recipes were introduced by Aun (in an update), Anjali and Joycelyn. Aun’s updated version is a little too complex for a simple lunch but Joycelyn and Anjali’s versions were just the thing I was looking for. Simple, elegant and great tasting.
In the end, I have two recipes to share: oil-based similar to the one from Le Papillon and a butter-based. For the oil-based version, which you can use stringy extruded pasta, just riff off any traditional Aglio Olio recipe but go very easy on the garlic.
Here’s the butter-based version:
Butter-based Mentaiko Sauce for Pasta
This is very easy to make and the butter disappears (I like to think it gets absorbed into the pasta) leaving the pasta coated with Mentaiko. Taste testing reports that while butter is used, the end result is light on the palate with a long finish. In the spirit of modern Japanese cuisine, this recipe is simple, elegant and delicious.
Ingredients: (makes enough to coat pasta to feed 4 in a 4-course lunch)
- 4 sacs of Mentaiko Roe (removed from sacs)
- 1 tbsp of Hon-Mirin
- 1 cup (240ml) of good unsalted butter
The unsalted butter should be left at room temperature until it is soft but not separated. Do not microwave.
- Pour the Hon-Mirin over the Mentaiko, stir gently and let stand for 10 minutes
- Dollop the butter over the Mentaiko mixture and fold the mixture gently until well integrated
- Cover the mixture with cling wrap and let it stand in a cool place while you cook the pasta
- Pour the mixture over the drained, hot pasta and toss until pasta is coated evenly
- Serve immediately
- Seriously, GOOD UNSALTED butter. Anajli’s recipe states to stir until it becomes similar to buttercream but that’s not necessary.
- For heaven’s sake, none of that low-fat crap; spending money on Mentaiko only to spoil the ensemble with processed butter is ridiculous. If you’re feeling guilty, simply eat less.
- This recipe relies on the heat of the freshly cooked and drained pasta to work. Does not work with cold pasta.
- Having said that, don’t toss the pasta with the sauce in a hot pan. The mixture will fall apart. The heat from the freshly cooked pasta is sufficient.
- The butter acts as a “glue” to stick the Mentaiko to the pasta. After tossing, if you see liquid butter at the bottom of the bowl, you’ve wasted butter and Mentaiko.
- Corollary: after distributing the tossed pasta, the bowl should be fairly clean and dry. Scrape remnants with a piece of bread and eat because you need to keep your strength up after slaving over the hot stove.
- Hon-Mirin (or just Mirin) boosts the flavors of the Mentaiko. This is why toasted Mentaiko goes well with Sake.
- If you use Sake instead of Mirin, please don’t use Cooking Sake.
And one last thing, I don’t understand the adding of Nori to the Mentaiko pasta; thin strips don’t add much “umami” (unless you toast it first) and it sticks to teeth. Seriously, how much extra umami do you need in Mentaiko pasta?
Having said that, the favored topping for Mentaiko pasta seems to be Shimeji mushrooms (sauté in butter and finish with a splash of Mirin), it adds a nice earthy flavor but for me, the real secret ingredient is bits of crisped bacon used as a generous garnish; the sweet crispiness adds a nice contrast spicy salty flavors. This is what I mean about the missing taste structure. When you next cook Pasta alla carbonara, leave off the bacon (or Panchetta) and you’ll experience what I mean.
Victi Happy Taste testers
Simply da best I ever had! Thanks for the recipe.
Thank you so much for sharing! The tips are really useful. I can’t wait to try this recipe out!
I have this bad habit of doing last min research on recipes and it’s my good fortune to find yours today. Am thrilled to have butter and tried it out immed. I halved everything and the pasta turned out great. This must be THE recipe of the year. Thanks loads.
@PY: Thanks! Tell your friends about this recipe!
@XY: Let me know how it turns out!
@carrie: Next up: BBQ!
Just wondering, wouldn’t angel hair be the better medium for sauce carry-age given it’s superior surface area to volume ratio?!
LOL admittedly I’d probably prefer the flat noodles too
@Nicholas: Ah, but because of the curvature of the round noodle and the spherical shape of the roe, it means that surface contact is tangential, i.e. minimal.
Whereas with 1 flat surface, the chance of greater contact is increased especially if the roe is smooshed and I’m sure you’ll find that Smooshed Roe and the Tangentials would be a great name for a rock band.
hmm, I forgot to take into account contact angle and wettability of the noodle. Touche.
Although I’m not entirely convinced on this until the surface energies of both components have been thoroughly examined .
And yes, that would be a pretty good name for a rock band!
@Nicholas: Hahaha! There is only one way to find out, but I’m a little tired of pasta already, so I’ll take a break for now.
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