Saturday, March 04, 2006

Spaghetti with Instant Cod Roe Sauce and Seaweed

This is first about cod roe, then spaghetti, and ultimately about specialty food products packaged for quick preparation. Next time we post about fish roe or any kind of roe, it will be shad roe. I saw shad roe for sale, for the first time this season, at the seafood department at Whole Foods in downtown Baltimore. The one or two sets that were on ice looked unappealing: too dry. Icing them down some more might have remedied the situation.

The platter and package pictured above of linguini with codfish sauce topped with seaweed is a product of the Japanese manufacturer S & B Foods. It comes in a flexible package containing four more packages, two each of sauce and seaweed. For several years, when shopping at Oriental grocery stores, I would occasionally purchase some to have for quick and convenient---and far more appealing to my own admittedly offbeat palate---than spaghetti topped with other prepackaged sauces.

Then, last summer, it disappeared from the shelves. I didn’t find any more until January. Previously, everything on the package had been written in Japanese. The picture on the front of the package and illustrated instructions on the back made clear what I was purchasing and how to prepare it. In addition, the ingredients and nutrition facts were written in English on a label attached to the back of the package. Cod fish, roe, salt, shortening, sugar, amino acid, and seaweed were the relatively innocuous ingredients that were listed.

What re-appeared in February, at Han Au Reum on Rolling Road, had “SPAGHETTI SAUCE COD ROE” written in English on the front of the package. The nutrition facts were on the back in English, but with ingredients that were not previously listed. Added had been monosodium glutamate, sugar, hydrolyzed protein, cochineal extract, disodium guanylate, and disodium inosinate. Some of these ingredients, which can enhance the flavor and improve shelf life, are a significant deterrent to certain consumers in the U.S. I opened and tasted the one package of sauce remaining from an earlier purchase to compare it with the sauce from my recent purchase and discerned no difference in taste. As always, the taste reminded me of the carp roe used for making the Greek dip taramasalata.

S & B could be seeking to penetrate a wider market within the U.S. specialty food trade, or for that matter, it could be seeking penetrate the Japanese marketplace with Western concepts. A recipe for pasta with salmon caviar that appeared in the Jan., 2006 Food & Wine Magazine suggests the U.S. could be amenable at least to something similar. S & B’s website states that “S & B is introducing Japanese traditional flavor, cod roe to Western favorite spaghetti. Just pour this sauce mix over cooked spaghetti and stir. Enjoy the latest trend of Japanese cooking.”