Monday mentaiko madness!
To be honest, I have very little idea of what was going on in the preparation of the mentaiko pasta, having been engaged in a battle with cream and gelatin at the time. So please see Joone’s wonderful instructions for details. What I can tell you though, is that it tasted pretty damn good. The cream held together a combination of contrasting flavours - the mentaiko was a delicate mixture of the salty and bitter, while the vinegar imparted a light "appetite opening" tartness – resulting in a rare balance that leaves you wanting more after each bite. For the record, greedyboy* wolfed down his plate even before Joone and I could serve ourselves. Similarly, I thought I could only manage one plateful, but ended up gobbling two then staring at the empty serving bowl wistfully.
Mentaiko panna cotta
Given that we’d pulled the idea for mentaiko panna cotta out of thin air, this dish was incredibly fun to prepare. Without strict guidelines and preconceived notions to adhere to, we attacked the dish with the enthusiasm of 4 year olds inventing food with Playdoh.
Fortunately, the end result was substantially more edible – the panna cotta was sweet and creamy (duh), and together with the lingering taste of mint, tasted sophisticated against the crunch and heartiness of the toast. Very addictive! The mentaiko provided great colour and visual appeal, but had minimal impact on both taste and texture, possibly as a result of first being overwhelmed by the sweetness of the panna cotta and then having gotten a little cooked by the heat of the warm cream. As a result, although we had imagined the dish more of a savoury appetizer or a cheese-like pre-dessert, the final product was decidedly a dessert, and one for the highly sugar inclined at that. We were then left with a bag of questions as to how to prepare it differently the next time – use less sugar? Top the panna cotta with mentaiko only at the end? Up the mentaiko: cream ratio? Substitute mint with fresh herbs? Conclusion: for such an odd couple, mentaiko and panna cotta offers a world of flexibility and variation. We’ll definitely keep experimenting with this in the future!
The thing I like about cooking rather than baking is the relative freestyle you are given in inventing your own dishes. I am clumsy and suffer from myopia, so staring closely at a weighing scale to ensure that I get the measurement of sugar and flour correct is sometimes quite a chore, simultaneously having to ensure that I don’t carelessly tip too much flour in causing my airy cake to transform into a dense brownie or biscuit, it sometimes borders on frustrating.
Cooking on the other hand gives me more space and margin for error. In this case of our mentaiko pasta, the recipe happened out of necessity. I had people to feed and had neglected to buy a major ingredient from the supermarket and so I had to abandon the original recipe that we identified. Thankfully this experiment tasted pretty damn good, hungry people are not exactly the friendliest.
Our Mentaiko Pasta
- Mentaiko 1 fat sac, set some aside for garnish
- Spaghetti 200 g
- Japanese mayonnaise 1/4 cup
- Rice vinegar 1 Tbsp
- Sesame seeds 1 Tbsp, roasted and ground
- Light soy sauce 1 tsp
- Mirin 1 tsp
- Nori thinly sliced
- Spring onions 1 stalk, thinly sliced
Slit open the mentaiko sac. Using a spoon, gently scrap out all the roe and discard the sac.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta as directed to al dente.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, using a whisk, combine Japanese mayonnaise, rice vinegar, ground sesame, soy sauce and mirin. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula and gentle stir in the mentaiko.
Drain pasta and toss with the prepared sauce. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with nori, spring onions and top off with mentaiko. Eat immediately. (Sometimes there is nothing better than instant gratification.)
Mentaiko Panna Cotta
- Heavy cream 3 cups
- Sugar 3/8 cup
- Salt a pinch
- Mentaiko 2 large sacs
- Powdered gelatin 2 tbsp
- Hot water 6 tbsp
- Mint 4 leaves, thinly sliced
- Toast 4 slices
Slit open the mentaiko sac. Using a spoon, gently scrap out all the roe and discard the sac. Separate roe clumps gently with fingers, as far as possible without damaging roe.
Heat cream, sugar and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat once first bubbles appear. Transfer to mixing bowl.
Add mentaiko to cream sugar mixture and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Mix gelatin in hot water, stirring constantly. Add to panna cotta mixture.
Place panna cotta mixture in bowl of iced water to chill for further 10 minutes. Once mixture has cooled down and thickened slightly, transfer into individual ramekins, ensuring that each ramekin has equal portions of mentaiko (mentaiko may have settled at bottom of mixing bowl). Chill in refrigerator until firm, approximately 2 hours.
To remove panna cotta from ramekin, immerse ramekin in warm water for 10 seconds. Invert gently onto half slice of toast cut to desired shape. Garnish with chopped mint and additional mentaiko to taste. Eat with spoon or 'toast fingers'.