Sunday, March 6, 2011


One of the great glories of Japanese cuisine is their consumption of edible seaweeds.

They consume at least seven kinds but there are four that you must actually understand well.

Seaweeds contain very high amounts of iodine, calcium and magnesium. You don't really need iodized salt (which sucks anyway!) if you consume these things on a regular basis. (In fact, you can smell the "sea" in them which is a mixture of iodine and calcium compounds.)

The first, and arguably the most important is kombu. The CC has spoken about it extensively here. It is absolutely indispensable in the pursuit of umami.

The next up, in no particular order of importance is nori. If you've eaten sushi, you will recognize this one. It's the crisp wrapper that is used to enclose rice. It's paper-thin, and when toasted gives off this wonderful aroma.

Then there's hijiki. It has this wonderfully crisp/slippery texture that is impossible to describe. Crisp and slippery? You'll just have to try it for yourself.

Finally, there's wakame. You may have had it in miso soup but this is a tougher nut to crack (so to speak.) You really have to appreciate its slippery texture because it's all about the texture here.

One of the great beauties of seaweed is that it comes dried. Effectively, that means that in a cool, dry pantry, it will last forever. (Not that it does in the CC's house but anyway ...)

You need to rehydrate three of them (nori is consumed as is) and you need to know the timings involved. They need to be rehydrated in cold water because hot water will decompose them, and make them, well, unappetizing.

We've already talked about kombu. Thirty minutes in cold water, followed by a boil but it needs to be yanked out just before the water boils or else the dashi will turn bitter.

Hijiki requires about 30 minutes of rehydation in cold water. Wakame requires only about 5 minutes.

These are wonderfully glorious objects. Masterpieces of texture and taste.

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