Japanese Hidaka Kombu - Japanese Wild Kelp
Many species of Kombu thrive in the waters around Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. The nutritious fronds are carefully selected according to the quality of the plant and the region in which it has grown. Of the different grades of kombu, the best (Hidaka #3) is gathered from the pristine Arctic waters off the coast of Hidaka Province. By late summer the kombu plants have grown up to 30 feet long and 6 inches wide. Men and women in small skiffs gather them by hand, using razor sharp knives attached to long bamboo poles to sever each plant at its stem. The kombu is then laid out on the stony beaches to dry slowly and naturally in the sun.
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Cooking with Kombu
Kombu can be used to create delicious clear soups and cooling pressed salads, as well as hearty stews and bean dishes. In most recipes kombu need not be soaked before use. When soaking is called for, merely soak the kombu until it softens and opens up. The nutritious soaking water can be used in the recipe, or reserved and used at a later time in soups or stews.
Kombu's most common and important use is in the preparation of dashi, Japan's multipurpose stock for soups, stews, and sauces. Dashi appears simple, but it is integral to Japanese cooking, since it is the first step in many traditional dishes. The flavor and quality of the stock help determine the taste of the finished dish. Kombu is also good when sliced and used in soups, stews, and vegetable and bean dishes. When cooking beans, the addition of kombu is particularly recommended because it helps soften the beans, reduces cooking time, and makes them easier to digest. The Japanese commonly use kombu to enhance the flavor of the brine or mash that is used to marinate various types of pickles. Sometimes, the kombu itself is one of the ingredients to be pickled. Kombu can also be cooked in a seasoned broth, wrapped around pieces of burdock or other vegetables, and then served as hors d'oeuvres.
A nutritious condiment can be made by roasting kombu then grinding it to a powder. First, cut the kombu into small pieces and place in an unoiled skillet over medium heat. Stir the kombu pieces constantly until they become very crisp. Transfer the roasted kombu pieces into a bowl or a suribachi (Japanese grinding bowl), and grind the kombu into a fine powder. Add this powder as a seasoning to soups, or sprinkle it over grains and vegetable dishes before serving.
This subtle, flavor-enhancing stock can be made in a very short time using only kombu and water. Simply combine 4-6 cups of water and a 6-inch piece of dried kombu in a saucepan. Allow the kombu to soak for about 15-20 minutes.
Bring just to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat, gently simmer for 5 minutes, then remove the kombu. This technique gives the most delicate and delicious results. Make sure to reserve the kombu - it can be cooked with beans or vegetables, or reused one or two times for making more stock.
If reusing the kombu to make stock, bring water to a boil, add kombu, then reduce heat and simmer 10-20 minutes. Lightly scoring the kombu will help release the amino acid responsible for its flavor-intensifying effect. For a more flavorful variation, see Shiitake Dashi in the Shiitake section of this web site.
Hearty Baked Vegetables
This warming dish, with its attractive fall colors, is especially appealing during autumn or winter.
6-inch strip Mitoku Hidaka Wild Kombu
1 cup spring water
1 large onion, halved and sliced into wedges
1/2 head cabbage, sliced into 3/4-inch wedges
2-3 large carrots, cut into small bite-sized chunks
1/2 butternut squash (peeled) or buttercup squash unpeeled), cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Mitoku Johsen Shoyu
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place kombu in a pie plate or small baking dish. Add water and soak at least 10 minutes. Remove kombu and cut it into 1-inch pieces, reserving soaking water. Place all vegetables in a baking pan or casserole dish. Add shoyu to kombu soaking water and pour over vegetables. Cover and bake until tender (about 50-60 minutes). Serve hot.
Kombu Shoyu Pickles
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Here's a tasty variation on a popular Japanese pickle.
1/2 cup Mitoku Johson Shoyu
1 cup spring water
6-inch strip Mitoku Hidaka Wild Kombu, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced turnips
5 thin slices peeled fresh ginger root
Sterilize a pint-sized jar by boiling it in water for 10 minutes. Remove and drain. Combine all ingredients, place in jar, and cover with cheesecloth. Keep in a cool place for 3 days. Remove cheesecloth, cover jar tightly with a cap, and let stand 2 more days before eating. Store in a refrigerator or cold place and use within one month.