Mentaiko Bread Spread
Although mentaiko is most commonly stuffed into onigiri or served with a bowl of rice in Japan, it’s a flavorful ingredient that can season dishes such as pasta or potato salad. Many bakeries in Japan sell mentaikopan (明太子パン), which is bread, that’s been slathered in mentaiko mixed with cheese, butter, or mayonnaise.
I’ve taken a slightly different approach for my version by turning this into a spread that doubles as a dip. This allows you to use it to make mentaiko bread, but you can also use it as a spread or dip for veggies.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Mentaiko provides salt, briny umami, and a hint of spiciness to this simple four-ingredient spread.
- Mascarpone is rich and not as acidic as sour cream or cream cheese. This can make it a little cloying, but adding a bit of lemon juice and zest gives the spread a fresh zing.
- The pungent garlic adds a ton of flavor and helps smooth over any fishiness in the roe.
Ingredients for Mentaiko Bread Spread
- Mentaiko – Mentaiko is made from a whole skein of cod roe that has been cured with powdered chili peppers and brine. It’s usually found in the frozen section of Japanese or Korean supermarkets. For a less spicy version, you can also use tarako.
- Mascarpone – Mascarpone is a fresh Italian cheese made by coagulating cream with an acid and straining out the whey. The resulting soft curd has a rich, creamy texture that’s somewhere between cream cheese and clotted cream.
- Lemon – Tangy lemon juice cuts through the richness of the mascarpone and roe while the zest adds a fresh fragrance. I’ve used regular lemons, but Meyer lemons or other sour citrus fruit such as yuzu or sudachi would work as well.
- Garlic – The garlic adds flavor to the spread, but if you’re not a fan of the taste of garlic, you can replace it with some chopped chives or minced scallions.
How to Make Mentaiko Bread Spread
Add the mascarpone to a bowl, and then use a Microplane to grate in the garlic.
Zest in about a quarter of the lemon zest and then squeeze in about two teaspoons of lemon juice.
Mentaiko is held together in a skein by a membrane, similar to a sausage. To get the roe out of the skein, just cut one end open and press the roe out using your fingers or chopsticks.
Stir everything together until it’s evenly combined, and then you can adjust the tartness by adding more lemon juice if you like.
Garnish the mentaiko bread spread with chervil or flat-leaf parsley and serve with crusty bread and vegetables for dipping.
Other Mentaiko Recipes
Mentaiko (明太子), also sometimes known as karashi mentaiko (辛子明太子), is cod roe that’s been salted and cured in a spicy brine. It originated in Korea, where it’s known as myeongtae (명태). Before myeongtae’s introduction to Japan, cod roe was most commonly cured in a salt-based brine to make tarako (鱈子). To this day, cured cod roe that is not spicy is known as tarako, whereas mentaiko refers to the spicy variety. It’s most commonly eaten as a condiment for rice, but it’s also delicious tossed with pasta or potatoes.
Toasted mentaiko bread can be made by spreading this mentaiko bread spread onto a slice of sandwich bread or a small baguette cut lengthwise and then toasting it in an oven until the spread is lightly browned.
In Japan, mentaiko is often mixed with dairy products such as cheese or butter and spread on bread before being toasted. This bread spread recipe made with mascarpone, mentaiko, garlic, and lemon can be used as both a spread and a dip. It’s also delicious toasted on bread or served with a crusty baguette.
I’ve only tried this with mentaiko, but any small and salty roe such as tobiko or bottarga should work in theory. Caviar could also work tastewise, but I think the color won’t be very nice. I would not recommend using larger roe like ikura.
Cream cheese makes for a suitable substitute for the mascarpone in this recipe. One thing to keep in mind is that cream cheese includes more salt and is generally slightly more acidic than mascarpone. You may need to slightly reduce the amount of mentaiko and just the amount of lemon juice if you decide to use cream cheese. It is also much firmer than mascarpone, so you’ll want to bring it up to room temperature to be able to mix it. Sour cream can also be a suitable substitute, but you will want to omit the lemon juice and just use the zest.
garlic (1 small clove grated)
lemon (juice and zest)
Chervil (for garnish)
Put the mascarpone in a bowl and then grate in the garlic and the zest from about 1/4 of the lemon.
Squeeze the lemon juice in the mixture.
Use your fingers and chopsticks to press the mentaiko from the skeins and into the bowl.
Stir the mentaiko spread together until uniform in color and adjust the amount of lemon juice to taste.
Garnish with chervil and serve with bread and vegetables.