ROE playing games

27Sep09

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I did not love fish roe in my childhood. I came to love it many many years later, while living in Osaka, where I had abundant opportunity to eat things my mother had never, in her wildest dreams, thought to feed me. In Osaka I learned to enjoy roe of all colors, tastes, and textures, especially as sushi toppings.

But it wasn’t until moving back to my childhood home of Hokkaido, that I began to think of roe as an ingredient in my pursuit of creative cookery. I know I’ve said this many times, but Hokkaido fairly BURSTS with fresh and delicious food products from the land and sea.

Here are four of the Roe family that are frequent visitors to my home: Kazunoko, Tobiko, Tarako, and Ikura.

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Kazunoko (preserved herring roe) is an important part of the New Years menu, and is easiest to find in stores in the weeks leading up to New Years. I remember the days when you had to take the time to soak the salt out of it, remove the thin membrane of the egg sac, then marinate the roe in fish stock to infuse it with flavor. It was a lot of bother, and quite time-consuming. Now-a-days you can find it frozen and all ready to eat as soon as it is defrosted. Kazunoko is yellow and kind of crunchy, and is usually sold in whole egg sac form, or in segments, rather than loose eggs like my next friend, Tobiko.

Tobiko (preserved flying fish roe) is usually packed loose in plastic containers, and I have no trouble finding it all year round. It is red and is great for garnish. For my New Years brunch this year, I served kazunoko in an un-traditional dish, tossing it in a mayonnaise-mustard sauce, with tobiko for color contrast and added texture. See photos below:

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Tarako (cod roe) is sometimes called mentaiko. It is very versatile. It’s a popular stuffing for rice balls. I’ve had it cooked in soup (still in the sac), and I’ve had it mixed with mayonnaise for a dip to serve with crackers or raw veggies (removed from the sac). It is also popular mixed with softened butter and tossed into hot spaghetti noodles. People who like spicy hot foods will probably enjoy karashi-mentaiko which is tarako marinated in chili powder. Tarako is pink, while karashi-mentaiko is bright orange. They are both soft in texture. Recently I made some soba-zushi (like makizushi, but using buckwheat noodles instead of rice) with tarako in the middle. Photos follow:

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Ikura (salmon roe) is my favorite roe. When I am served ikura outside of Hokkaido, it often has a slightly fishy taste and a sticky texture that is unpleasant to the teeth. But ikura in Hokkaido is altogether different. It is a beautiful glowing red and deep orange color, much bigger than tobiko, and softer in texture than tobiko. Good ikura doesn’t break or flatten as it’s being handled, but once in the mouth it bursts with a pop and releases its creamy ocean flavor. In Hokkaido we use ikura in all sorts of dishes not limited to sushi. I had it on a pizza delivered from a major pizza chain once, and decided I could do a better job of it.

I drizzled some shiso-walnut pesto (see my Savory Oyster and Shiitake Pie) over the pizza dough, and covered that with shredded mozzarella. Then I baked it at 250 C (500 F) for ten minutes. After letting it settle a bit, I laid slices of smoked salmon over the top, and then dropped bits of cream cheese and clusters of salmon roe over that. This was the result.

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I hope to cover other roes in future posts.

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