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Mentaiko is a Japanese dish made of pollock roe, or eggs, pickled in various ingredients which makes it spicy. It can be eaten plain, often served as an accompaniment when drinking sake, which is Japanese rice wine. It may also be combined with other ingredients in various dishes popular in Japan such as in a sauce with pasta and in onigiri, where it is wrapped in rice. Due to the ingredients used to spice it, it remains preserved. Mentaiko is freely available in Japan — Fukuoka being the city where it originated — and most supermarkets specializing in Japanese cuisine, worldwide.
Thought to have originally come from Korea, mentaiko is made from the roe of the Alaskan pollock, which are a commonly caught fish in the Northern Pacific ocean. The roe, which are fully formed fish eggs, are removed from the fish and then prepared. Recipes may differ from chef to chef and the Korean version differs from the Japanese and is called myeongran jeot. The color and taste of mentaiko depends on what is added to the roe.
An example of the flavorful ingredients that are used are chili, sake, yuzu citrus and konbu, in which the pollock roe is left marinating for several hours, during which time it absorbs the flavors and color of the ingredients. Yuzu citrus is a citrus fruit native to Japan which is about the size of a tangerine and is very sour. It is often hard to find in the rest of the world, although some specialty food shops may sometimes have it. Konbu is a type of edible kelp or seaweed, which is very salty and is high in many minerals.
After marinating for some hours, the mentaiko takes on an orange to red color and is then either removed from its natural membrane and placed in jars or left in the membrane and packaged as such. When served plain, while drinking sake, the mentaiko is removed from the membrane or jar and served. Onigiri is another popular dish in Japanese cuisine and consists of a ball of rice, often wrapped around a filling such as mentaiko and sometimes placed in seaweed, making transport and eating easy.
Another popular dish which is made using mentaiko is mentaiko noodles or pasta. Recipes differ widely and range from just adding the mentaiko, as is, to pasta, all the way through to more complicated dishes. These may include combinations of cream, mayonnaise, butter and sake.
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