Tarako and mentaiko are traditional Japanese seafood ingredients, consisting of pollock roe from the Alaskan pollock, of the cod family. The Alaskan pollock is not a pollock in itself, but a cod; thus, tarako and mentaiko are also referred to as cod roe. These ripe eggs are prepared and seasoned differently: tarako is plain and salted, while mentaiko is marinated and a more flavorful version. Widely used in Japanese cuisine, pollock roe is also present in Korean, Russian, and a few French preparations.
- Other names: pollock roe or cod roe
- Meaning: "children of cod"
- Found: refrigerated or frozen, seasoned and plain
- Cuisines: Japanese, Korean, Russian
What Are Tarako and Mentaiko?
Tarako consists of plain, salted sacks of pollock or cod roe. The tiny eggs are packed tightly together and encased in a very thin membrane. The Japanese word "tarako" translates to "children of cod": “tara” meaning cod, and “ko” which means children. Tarako is typically sold raw and usually identified by its neutral color, which is a nude, almost beige with light pink undertones. Tarako is highly appreciated, difficult to find, and thus very expensive.
Mentaiko is identical to tarako in that it is a sack of salted cod roe, but differs from tarako as the roe is marinated in powdered chiles and spices to create an array of subtly different flavor profiles. Raw mentaiko is offered in different colors, ranging from a muted pink to bright red, depending on the food manufacturer.
Mentaiko is sometimes referred to as karashi, or spicy, mentaiko when it is seasoned with red chili pepper spices, as well as rolled in togarashi, or Japanese red chili pepper, for an extra kick.
Tarako and Mentaiko Uses
Depending on how you bought the roe, you can simply eat it raw or quickly cook it according to your preferences. There is no difficult trimming or discarding involved because the roe is usually sold with the case and it is up to you if use it or not. Removing it is easy by gently using your hands and freeing the eggs.
How to Cook With Tarako and Mentaiko
Tarako and Mentaiko can also be cooked either with the exterior membrane of the roe sac intact or with the membrane removed. Tarako and mentaiko can quickly be heated up in a pan, mixed with pasta, used as stuffing for rice balls or in rice dishes, deep-fried, used as a garnish in sushi, or mixed with mayo to make dips and spreads.
What Do Tarako and Mentaiko Taste Like?
Tarako and mentaiko are packed with the flavors of the sea. They're both salty and filled with seafood essence, but they aren't "fishy." Tanako is plainer in flavor, as it's only salted, whereas mentaiko has a kick and a rich umami flavor thanks to the brine and marinades used in its preparation.
When cooked encased in the sac membrane, the tiny roe takes on a rich and thick, almost paste-like texture. When the roe is eaten raw, the tiny eggs create an almost sauce-like texture.
Tarako and Mentaiko Recipes
Many traditional Japanese dishes use tarako or mentaiko indiscriminately, and it mainly depends on personal taste. If you like it plain, go for the former, or if you like a richer flavor, go for the latter.
Use it raw for sushi or cook the roe in the sac on a pan with olive oil and serve it on steamed rice; stuff rice balls (onigiri) with either and wrap in seaweed; cook it into a pasta sauce or mix it raw in the cooked pasta; or deep fry it wrapped in a shiso leaf and covered in tempura batter. For a tataki preparation, cook the sac for a short amount of time so that the outside is cooked but the inside remains raw.
Where to Buy Tarako and Mentaiko
Both tarako and mentaiko are readily available at Japanese grocery stores, as well as other Asian (Chinese and Korean) supermarkets in the refrigerated and frozen sections. Some select Japanese groceries offer online sales and delivery, and other upscale seafood distributors might offer overnight shipments of this high-quality roe, depending on where you are in the United States.
As with all roe, tarako and its seasoned relatives marinated mentaiko and spicy karashi mentaiko should be kept in an airtight container in the coldest part of the fridge for up to two to three days. If freezing, the roe can be kept for two to three months, and after thawing it in the refrigerator, it can be kept for the same two to three days in the fridge.