Masago is roe or eggs of the capelin fish, a small fish related to salmon and commonly used as topping or garnish for sushi. If you are a sushi aficionado, you have probably already tasted Masago even if you are not aware of it.
But the truth is that even people who are new to the rich world of Japanese cuisine could easily identify Masago. Have you ever noticed something that looks a bit like orange rice, only smaller? Well, that is actually Masago.
Masago – Capelin Fish
But Masago is no orange rice or anything like it. If you have had I, you will know that it tastes like fish. And no wonder because what you had eaten are the roe (eggs) of a capelin fish.
The capelin is a fish that is most commonly found in the Pacific or the North Atlantic oceans. But it is its availability in the Pacific Ocean what made it such an important ingredient in the preparation of sushi in Japan.
I love Chinese food, like steamed dim sum, and I can have noodles, hot or cold. I like food that’s very simple on the digestive system – I tend to keep it light. I love Japanese food too – shushi, sashimi and miso soup. – Shilpa Shetty
In fact, capelin is widely available in Japan. That is why it became a key sushi ingredient in the first place. But there are also other reasons that explain its popularity. It is also a very sustainable fish and it can be used in a variety of different ways.
Masago is also good for you because its high levels of Omega 3 acids make it a great choice in everyone’s diet.
Masago Vs. Tobiko
But it would be a mistake to think that Masago is the only kind of fish egg used in sushi. As popular as Masago is there is another kind of fish egg that is also hugely popular in Japanese cuisine.
We are talking about Tobiko, which is the roe (eggs) of flying fish. Although neophytes may confuse the two kinds of roe they are, in fact, very different in some key ways.
For example, Tobiko is slightly larger than Masago. Also, Tobiko is a bit crunchier than Masago. And, while both of them are savory, Tobiko is more so than Masago, which has a subtler taste.
Sushi is something very exclusive. It is not like a McDonald’s, not like a hot dog, not like a French fry. It’s very high-class cooking in Japan. – Nobu Matsuhisa
In general, Masago has a gentler texture when compared with Tobiko. This means that it compliments the primary meat in any sushi roll. Tobiko, however, stands out on its own due to its crunchiness. Tobiko can overwhelm the rest of flavors and textures in the role, while Masago always acts as the perfect compliment.
Having said all that, it is also fair to say that part of Masago’s success is its unusual and appealing orange color. And this is another reason why sushi chefs use it so much. It adds to the overall appealing aesthetic of sushi.
Of course, whether you prefer Masago or Tobiko is a very personal opinion. Many people prefer Tobiko simply because they find it more flavorful. Others show no particular preference or cannot even tell them apart, other than by their differing colors.
Fish Eggs In Japanese Cuisine
There are many other kinds of fish eggs used in Japanese cuisine, apart from Masago and Tobiko. For example, there is Ikura, which comes from salmon and is also orange, and crunchy and it is, like Tobiko, larger than Masago.
Mentaiko comes from the walleye pollock, and it is crunchy, but not orange or creamy, and also smaller in size than Masago.
Uni comes from sea urchins and is creamy and larger than Masago bit not orange or crunchy.
The last kind of fish egg (roe) used in Japanese cuisine is Ebiko, which comes from shrimp. It is orange and crunchy but not creamy and smaller in size than Masago.
Uses of Masago
Masago is not just used for in sushi. Its versatility and wide availability make Masago an ideal ingredient for many different dishes in Japanese cuisine. For example, nigiri, and sashimi, as well as, of course, sushi.
Masago is sometimes even mixed wasabi in order to create what some people refer to as the wasabi caviar.
If you do not happen to live in Japan, Masago is also relatively easy to find in stores across North America, Europe, and other world regions. In the Northern hemisphere is always better to look for this ingredient in Winter or, early Spring, at the latest. That is the breeding season for the capelin fish, so it is when you will find the freshest Masago in stores.
Masago’s popularity in the West started due to the popularity of sushi but not it gets also used in Western cuisine.
Here are some ideas for dishes with Masago, both from Japan, other Asian countries and, even, West countries:
- Masago with fried rice.
- Spicy Ahi Poke with Masago.
- Spicy mayo with Masago.
- Spaghetti with Masago.
And, of course, sushi!
Believe it or not, Masago is so tasty that it can also go great with quintessentially Western dishes such as Italian spaghetti. Masago adds the perfect taste to fresh pasta, apart from adding plenty of vitamins to that and any other dishes you would use it for!