Shin Hatakeyama, a chef who is the manager of Sunrise Mart, the Japanese food market in Manhattan (the one at 494 Broome Street), has made a commitment to importing top-quality, authentic ingredients from Japan. Yesterday he invited Daigo Irifune of Yamaya USA to showcase his company's mentaiko. Daigo was kind enough to talk to me about all things mentaiko:
First of all, what's mentaiko? Sometimes called "spicy cod roe," it's actually spicy pollock eggs. An import from Korea, it became popular in Japan after World War Two. Fukuoka, a big city in the southern island of Kyushu, is the mentaiko capital of Japan. (Kyushu is the closest part of Japan to Korea, so not surprising.). Daigo tells me that there are some three hundred mentaiko producers in the city.
Daigo explained that his mentaiko is produced by marinating pollock eggs in chili, sake, konbu and yuzu citrus, then letting it ferment lightly for several hours. The result is spicy, flavorful roe, tiny in size and red in color. Mentaiko is sold in its natural membrane, pictured above, or in jars, the membrane removed and ready to eat.
How do you use it? The most common way is as a filling for onigiri. But at Sunrise, Daigo offered tastes of mentaiko spaghetti, an extremely popular Japanese-style pasta, crossover dishes marrying Japanese flavors to Italian pasta. (Also called "wafu pasta" -- there are at least two places in New York that specialize in this cooking, Basta Pasta and Pasta Wafu.)
Daigo also told me about another dish, "mentaiko salad," which is composed of mentaiko, wakame seaweed, cucumbers and kuzukiri noodles (translucent arrowroot vermicelli that readily absorb flavors). Sounds tasty. If you try it, please let me know how it comes out!