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Fish Roe in Japanese Cuisine

Fish eggs, or roe, are a delicacy in many world cuisines (think “Russian sturgeon caviar”). The eggs of many types of fish and sea animals are eaten raw, grilled, sautéed, pickled, salted and smoked. Hard roe refers to the eggs, egg sacs or egg mass while soft roe is fish milt, or male organs when they still contain the sperm. Soft roe is called shirako (“white children”) in Japanese. Shirako of the fugu (puffer or blowfish) is particularly prized.

Here are the more common types of fish roe eaten in Japanese cuisine:

Ikura-Large translucent eggs with a reddish-orange color. They pop in your mouth, releasing a delicious liquid. Because Western fishermen use salmon eggs as bait, they are squeamish about eating ikura.
Kazunoko-From the herring, kazunoko eggs come in a connected mass so that it looks like a fish filet. When I was a little girl, I didn’t recognize kazunoko as fish eggs and I added the fish “filet” to some soup, much to my mother’s displeasure. Kazunoko means “many children”. It often is pickled and has a very crunchy texture.
Masago-Tiny, bright orange eggs from the capelin, a type of smelt fish.
Mentaiko-Eggs from the Alaskan Pollock that are seasoned with spicy chilies. Mentaiko originated in Korean cuisine.
Sujiko-Sujiko is the same as ikura, except the eggs are kept inside the egg sac.
Tobiko-Small, crunchy eggs from the flying fish. Naturally a reddish orange hue, tobiko may be tinted green with wasabi or black with squid ink.
Uni-Sea urchin roe is really the gonads, or sex organs (sea urchins have both male and female organs) rather than the eggs.

Japanese enjoy fish roe not only in different types of sushi but simply served on hot, steamed rice or tucked inside an onigiri, or rice ball, which are my favorite ways to eat roe. Often, some types of prepared by salting or saucing in soy sauce or miso paste. You can get creative by using roe in different sushi rolls, salad dressings or as a delicious edible garnish. Make a fresh crab or shrimp cocktail and top with a spoonful of masago or tobiko. Spread the top of raw mussels or oysters on the half shell with some Japanese mayonnaise, broil under a hot flame and sprinkle with fish roe before serving. Or, like me, spoon some over a chawan of hot rice and enjoy the crisp, salty deliciousness. What a tasty and easy way to get in healthy omega 3s fish oils!

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