Tarako is the Japanese Dish Your Taste Buds Deserve As A Treat

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

If you’ve ever had roe, then you’ll know that they know how to treat your taste buds real good, and the story gets better with pollock roe too!

Pollock roe can be used in a lot of dishes, including our very own pasta yet, it can also be eaten alone. And it is also from pollock roe that we get the famous Japanese Tarako.

Though the roe isn’t quite as famous as caviar roe or salmon roe in America, it is however very famous in Japan, Korea and Russia. Soon enough, this roe would be topping the America’s roe charts but before then, let’s get you acquainted with this mild tasting roe.

Getting Acquainted with the Pollock Roe

Pollock roe is also known and referred to as pollack roe or cod roe. The roe is gotten from a fish species of the cod family, Alaska pollock or walleye pollock. The roe is basically the eggs of this fish. For some other fish, it could be their sperms or it could refer to the ovaries of some crustaceans. But for the Alaska pollock, it is the eggs.

A very interesting thing to know about this cod species of fish, the Alaska pollock, just in case you didn’t already know is that it is the national fish for the Korea. Yeah, you read that right.

That’s just how much the Koreans love this fish.

The roe usually comes encased in a membranous sac, some sort of skin that is edible and chewy – the roe itself can be eaten raw. The pollock roe is sometimes prepared with the skin still on, to maintain the structural integrity of the roe.

The eating of these Japanese fish eggs though more widely associated with the Japanese cuisine, actually originated in Korea, and has been a part of the Korean cuisine as far back as 1392, the start of the Joseon era. Whereas it found its way to Japan around the end of the second world war, many decades after the Koreans were already enjoying the dish.

The commonest way of enjoying it is by making it salted, salted pollock roe (or salted cod roe) is eaten mainly in Korea, Japan and Russia.

In Korea, pollock roe is called myeongnan while salted pollock roe is called myeongnan-jeot. Salted cod roe serves as a side dish if raw, dried or even cooked. It can also be served with alcoholic drinks or incorporated into dishes like bokkeum-bap (fried rice) and even pizza! The preparation process for making salted pollock roe usually involves washing the roe with salted water, draining after a few days and then marinating with chili powder and garlic.

In Russia, the term ikra mintaya refers to both the raw pollock roe and the salted type. The Russians mainly use it as a sandwich spread.

And now Japan, tarako is used to refer to the fresh and salted pollock roe while mentaiko or karashi mentaiko is used to refer to spicy pollock roe, a less milder version of tarako.

A broad classification will group pollock roe or cod roe into two broad classification while a narrower classification will group it into three.

Types of cod roe:

  1. Tarako
  2. Mentaiko

A 3rd classification would be karashi mentaiko but karashi mentaiko is almost always referred to as mentaiko. Rarely, are the two terms separated.

What is Tarako?

Tarako, a Japanese word, is a combination of two words tara and ko. Tara means cod while ko means children so basically the word tarako means children of cod, which is right. Tarako are salted skin-like filled with the roe. Apart from the fact that it is salted, it is basically plain. It is free from the usual strong fishy aftertaste that’s associated with seafood.

These are usually sold raw and can be eaten either raw or cooked, the natural color is a neutral (nude) color with varying degrees of pink undertones. However, it is traditionally dyed to a bright red color but this practice is fading slowly due to the increased awareness of the dangers of food coloring.

Mentaiko: Unlike Tarako, mentaiko are usually marinated in different seasonings and spices thus they’re more flavorful than tarako. They (the raw ones) usually come in different colors, most times due to the type of food coloring being used, and a few times, it is due to the marinating ingredients being used.

Karashi mentaiko, on the other hand, simply means spicy mentaiko and it is the most popular type of mentaiko thus they are both taken for one and the same. It is basically mentaiko that has been seasoned with red chili peppers such as togarashi or Japanese red chili peppers.

It is also sold in varying degrees of spiciness, and just like mentaiko, they come in different colors. Both usually come in colors ranging from mild pink to dark red, and can also be eaten either raw or cooked.

Tarako, mentaiko or karashi mentaiko can be bought at Japanese grocery stores and at Asian supermarkets in the frozen or refrigerated sections. If not there, you can consider purchasing yours online. You might get lucky to purchase an Alaska pollock with roe, but the chances of that are really slim.

Amazing Tarako Recipes You Can Try

Tarako, mentaiko, or karashi mentaiko are all interchangeably used in most recipes. It actually depends on what you like. If you want an ordinary salted cod roe, then tarako is what you should use. For a more flavorful cod roe, there’s mentaiko and if you have a thing for spicy Japanese fish eggs, then karashi mentaiko is literally begging to be used.

So what are the ways you can use tarako?

  1. As tarako. Tarako can be served plainly with nothing else added to it. When served plain, it could be for either breakfast (usually, it is for breakfast) or for a quick snack.
  2. Tarako pasta: This is one of the most popular ways cod roe can be used in the Japanese cuisine. The tarako can either be used to make the the sauce for the pasta by mixing it with mayonnaise or butter, or can be served as a raw or cooked side dish to the pasta. This dish is usually garnished with thin nori (dried laver seaweed) strips and shiso leaves.
  3. Tarako with red chili pepper flakes. Spicy and delicious.
  4. Tarako rice ball (onigiri): Onigiri is an equally famous salted cod roe dish as the tarako pasta, it uses the tarako as its filling. It is usually served as a snack or kept in the Japanese bento (lunch box) when it is to be eaten later. This dish is made by wrapping a piece of cooked tarako with rice and seaweed into a rice ball. Though the tarako is usually cooked, it can also be used raw but only if you plan to eat the Japanese rice balls immediately.
  5. Tarako spread: Though more commonly used as a spread in Russia, the Japanese still very much use tarako as a spread especially on sandwiches, bread, and toast. When used as a spread, it is advisable that the pollock roe be cooked with its skin on hence can easily turn paste-like in texture after being mixed with mayonnaise and some other seasonings to make it flavorful. The Russian version is usually canned and only includes oil, no extra seasoning.
  6. Pollock roe and steamed rice: As a side dish to your plate of steamed rice, pollock roe could be served either raw or cooked. The roe is most often cooked with the skin on by heating it up in a pan of olive oil. Sometimes, the Japanese cooking technique, tataki is used to make the outside cooked while the inside remains raw.
  7. Mentaiko with sake: Mentaiko, because it is the more preferred option when eating alone with the sake drink. However, tarako can also be used.
  8. Tarako sushi: You didn’t see this one coming, huh? Well, tarako without its skin is used to garnish your seaweed wrapped sushi rice.
  9. Mentaiko or tarako tempura: Wrap your preferred cod roe with shiso leaf, then dip it in your tempura batter and fry, pair this fried product with your tempura sauce (a dipping sauce) and you have mentaiko or tarako tempura ready to be served.
  10. Topping for ochazuke: Ochazuke is a Japanese dish that’s also known more simply as chazuke. The dish is made by drizzling hot water, dashi or even green tea over cooked rice, and then by using other ingredients like tarako as topping.

Some of these recipes could be addressed with mentaiko as the prefix, not tarako depending on what pollock roe is being used to make the dish. Salty or spicy, it all depends on how you want it.

To remove the pollock roe from the skin after it has been cooked, make a small tear on the skin and then squeeze out the roe. Or you could just scrape it out.

How To Make Tarako Pasta

Really, it wouldn’t be cool nor fair if I left you without one pollock roe dish recipe so here’s the recipe for tarako pasta. This recipe takes less than 20 minutes to prep and make and will serve 4 persons conveniently.

Things you’ll need:

  • 350 g of spaghetti
  • 8 shiso leaves, julienned
  • ¼ cup of tarako
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or table salt), or to taste.
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.
  • ¼ cup of milk (or cream)
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter.
  • 1 to 2 teaspoon lemon juice or a dash of olive oil (optional)
  • Shredded nori seaweed (optional)

The shiso leaves and the nori are for garnishing, the strong herb like aroma of the shiso leaves will serve as a palate cleanser, leaving you with a refreshing aftertaste.

Other optional Ingredients that you should consider adding to shake things up are shimeji mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, kombu tea, etc. And remember, in place of tarako, you can always use karashi mentaiko.

Instructions:

  1. Place a pot of water on stovetop and bring to a boil. Then add spaghetti and the tablespoon of salt. Allow to get done yet firm, al dente to be precised. Check the pasta label for direction on how long to boil.
  2. If your shiso leaves isn’t julienned yet, then do just that while your pasta is getting ready. Also, make a small tear on the skin of the tarako and squeeze out the salted cod roe, like described earlier.
  3. Add the squeezed out tarako, milk or cream, melted butter, lemon juice or olive oil and soy sauce in a bowl and mix together very well.
  4. Remove spaghetti from heat once it is al debte and drain. Add the drained pasta to the tarako sauce in the bowl and mix together, again.
  5. Then serve the tarako pasta and garnish with shiso leaves and nori.

Note: As mentioned earlier, you can make your tarako a side dish instead of incorporating it into the spaghetti sauce.

The recipe is just one way to make a really delicious yet simple tarako pasta. Shaking things up is highly recommended, add new stuff and see how well the taste might improve. Might, because not everything will go well.

Another quick way of making your salted pollock roe sauce is to add the skinned roe to mentsuyu (a Japanese broth) and mix well before throwing in the pasta to the mixture.

Pollock roe is an extremely fascinating way to work up an appetite. There are so many dishes that this roe would come quite handy in so don’t hesitate in buying yourself some tarako. From tarako, you could buy some mentaiko, after that, get yourself some karashi mentaiko, and of course don’t forget to enjoy the different taste and flavor.

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Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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