Ottolenghi’s seaweed recipes in The Guardian23 July 2013
Some foods don’t fare at all well in blind tastings. Anyone unfamiliar with the delights of Stinking Bishop cheese, Korean kimchi (fermented, pickled vegetables) or Swedish surströmming (fermented herring) may well think they’ve stumbled into a locker room full of old socks and other, er, “aromatics”. If the first bite is with the eye and the second with the nose, some people will never take that third, actual bite if the food in question smells too fishy, fermented or cheesy.
Take seaweed: it smells and tastes just a bit too much like, well, weeds you find in the sea. As with all British seaside experiences, however, the secret to enjoyment is simply getting the dressing right and taking the plunge. I draw on various cultures for inspiration, but it is to Japanese cuisine that I most often turn to adorn and, yes, mitigate that distinctive flavour and texture.
Seaweed has a deep umami flavour, that mysterious, savoury fifth taste, thanks in large part to it being a natural source of MSG, which helps spread a deep, saline, addictive flavour throughout a dish.
Nearly all edible seaweeds – or “sea vegetables”, as they ought technically to be called – belong to one of three broad groups: green, red and brown algae. Sea lettuce and aonori are the most widely used of the green group – sea lettuce in salads and soups, aonori in powdered form. Red algae, meanwhile, tend to have a deeper, sulphur-like aroma. Nori, the most common of these, is the traditional sushi wrapper, while dulse – a purplish leaf that turns green when cooked – develops a distinct aroma of bacon when fried; it also contains the sugar galactose, used in the gelling agents agar-agar and carrageenan. The generally milder brown algae include in their number kelp, kombu (essential in dashi) and wakame, the vibrant green leaves in miso soup and salads.
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