Shirako – A Tasty Sack of Fish Sperm
Shirako is a slippery, soft white food that is a popular winter delicacy in Japan. It is easily recognizable due to its intestinal-like nature. In English we refer to it as milt, the sperm-filled reproductive gland of a male fish. The male genitalia of fish when it contains the sperm, including the seminal fluid. We’re talking sperm sac. We’re talking semen. The stuff that is used to fertilize fish roe, the egg-laden ovary of a fish.
It is the seminal fluid of fish, mollusks, and other water-dwelling animals who reproduce by spraying this fluid, which contains the sperm, onto roe (fish eggs). A bizarre morsel of Japanese culinary strangeness included on the infamous 10 Weird Japanese Foods list.
A Japanese Delicacy
In Japanese cuisine shirako is considered a delicacy. Shirako (白子) translates into English as ‘white children’. It is harvested from fish such as cod (tara), anglerfish (anko), monkfish, and sometimes pufferfish (fugu). Most types of fish seminal fluid are in season during winter. The sperm sac is said to melt in the mouth like butter. It can be eaten both raw and cooked but this depends on individual tastes. It is a popular dish at most izakaya (Japanese pubs) and sushi bars. You can even pick it up in your local supermarket.
Shirako is most accurately likened to pork brains, yet with a lighter, finer texture. Steamed, shirako is as soft as an egg custard; pan- or deep-fried, the surface crisps up while the interior remains soft and creamy. The taste of shirako is subtle; there’s a slight sweetness and just the faintest hint of its oceanic roots.
A Personal Encounter With Fish Ejaculate
An accidental dining experience in Japan involving shirako or fish sperm is not an uncommon story. It could happen to anyone. So I keep telling myself.
Celebrating in Tokyo one evening with a few Japanese colleagues I was excited to get out and try some Japanese delicacies under the guidance of the locals. A reservation was made at an izakaya, a traditional Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks.
We arrived and there were no seats. Only a tatami mat on the floor. I knew that I was up for a posture-breaking flexibility challenge. My colleagues quickly assumed a comfortable seated position as if they were yoga masters as I desperately struggled to get comfortable with my limbs inappropriately hanging all over the place.
As we pondered over the menu I decided that I did not want to be an imposition, so I relinquished responsibility of the menu selection to my more experienced Japanese hosts. These guys accepted the task with sinister smirks upon their faces. The first dish to arrive was bowl of tentacles. I had an internal battle saying “Reject the tentacles and offend my hosts or eat the tentacles and offend them by vomiting on the table?”. “Reject the Tentacles” won. However, there was much disappointment on the faces of my friends so I committed to eat the next dish to arrive.
The next dish arrived. It was a creamy, white, gooey substance. The texture was similar to that of a brain, it had little red blood vessels. I asked what it was but the Japanese guys would not say. They kept reminding me that I was committed to eat the next dish to arrive… and there it was. I was obligated. There was no turning back. I was on the hook.
Reluctantly I picked up my chopsticks and stared deeply at the creamy, white, gooey brain substance that laid before me. There was a chant coming from the rest of the group – Ikki, ikki, ikki, ikki… which conveniently translates as Go, go, go, go… I dug my chopsticks in, ripped the goo out and threw it to the back of my mouth. Reporting a strange sensation of what appeared to be of a brain texture was in fact a membrane of some kind. It felt like the membrane had exploded in my mouth and this oozing liquidy substance poured out.
My work mates were in hysterics rolling around on the tatami mat. Finally, one of them managed to regain composure to tell me what it was.
“Well, what you have just eaten is a Japanese delicacy called shirako. It is the sack inside of a fish that contains the fishes sperm. So, you have just eaten the equivalent to fish testicles.”
I stared deeply into space at the shock of the news just broken to me whilst the Japanese guys feasted happily on the remaining shirako.
If you think that this is weird then check out 10 Weird Japanese Foods for more bizarre morsels of Japanese culinary strangeness such as raw horse meat, nattō, grasshoppers, fugu and more. If you are not that adventurous, then check out 10 Cool Japanese Foods for a delicious selection of ten tasty morsels of Japanese culinary goodness such as yakitori, sukiyaki, ramen, yakiniku, kushikatsu and more.