Can you guess what this is?
Yup - it’s seaweed! This particular beauty is Saccharina japonica – otherwise known as kombu. It’s a large kelp that is widely used in Asian cooking. Most of the kombu we eat is farmed and not harvested from the wild. Depending on the aquaculturalist, kombu may first be grown in land-based facilities until they reach a certain size and then transferred to the ocean where they are hung from ropes with floats on one end and a weight on the other. This keeps the rope vertical in the water. By growing the kombu out of the ocean first, the farmers can help the kelp survive past those vulnerable early stages.
Once the kombu reaches a certain size, it is then taken from the ocean, checked for quality, and then dried, cut, and folded ready for transport to… us!
So what can you do with this lovely kombu?
One of my favourite things to do is make dashi stock as a base for miso soup. It’s very easy to do. First cut a piece of the seaweed off (I usually go for something around 10 cm x 10 cm (but it’s not an exact science) and then make a couple of slits. I then pop it into a pot of water (enough to make the amount of miso soup I want) and slowly heat on a low-medium heat. After about 20 minutes or so it will start to come to a gentle roll, at which point I stop the heat (we don’t want it to boil). Sometimes I leave the kombu in the water for about 10 more minutes before taking it out. I’ve heard if you leave it too long you can get a slimy, bitter taste but I have not had this problem. Sometimes I’ll also add some other things like dried mushrooms that I want to eat in the soup after I stop the heat. This gives them time to rehydrate and adds a second flavour to the stock!
Now before you throw that kombu out – you can eat it as it is. Yep – take a bite, and see what you think!