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A Star of Kenji L贸pez-Alt鈥檚 Childhood Breakfasts Shows Its Versatility

For breakfast, Kachan would place the soft, pale pink sacs over hot coals glowing in a small countertop binchotan grill. She鈥檇 flip them, each sac about the size of a cocktail wiener, until the edges were charred and smoky, and the sacs firm enough that they could be crumbled over warm rice. As we ate, we鈥檇 tear nori sheets into small bits, sprinkle them on top and stir the mixture with chopsticks.

At least, that鈥檚 how I remember it. My mother says Kachan probably cooked the tarako in a small-handled fish basket held directly over the gas flame of the kitchen burner. My older sister, Aya, insists that she did it in a small frying pan, the egg sac swelling until it burst, sending tiny eggs skittering across the hot metal. I also distinctly remember her broiling tarako in the same tabletop toaster oven where she toasted shokupan.

My grandmother passed away years ago, so we can鈥檛 check in with her. But over time, I鈥檝e confirmed that every one of these techniques works just fine for tarako destined for the breakfast rice bowl (although the smokiness of charcoal can鈥檛 be beat if you can manage it). A single sac of frozen tarako is enough to flavor at least four breakfast-size bowls of rice, but I typically buy a few extra to keep in the freezer.

Since tarako, and its spicier sibling mentaiko, are used in both Korean and Japanese cuisines, the proliferation of Korean supermarket chains like H Mart has made them easier than ever to find. (In fact, mentaiko is a cognate of the Korean word for Alaskan pollock, or myeongnan, combined with the Japanese word for child, ko.) I typically get mine in trays near the frozen food department of Japanese or Korean supermarkets, and it keeps for a few months. Defrosting it is relatively quick 鈥 overnight in the fridge or an hour or two on a sheet tray on the counter 鈥 or you can keep it in the fridge for at least a week or two. (Its saltiness increases its shelf life.)

Cooking it for breakfast is a snap. I most frequently broil the egg sacs on a small sheet tray in my toaster oven or in a skillet on the stove until cooked through, while I microwave some leftover rice. Then, I crumble them over the rice, serving furikake or nori sheets on the side. It鈥檚 also wonderful raw, dolloped into the center of onigiri (seasoned rice balls).

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