poached sea bass with
, creamy marinière of shellfish, girolles and
spinach at the Connaught in Mayfair, it struck me that kombu (Japanese dried
kelp), is the latest “in” ingredient.
Everyone who is anyone is cooking with it from Antonin Bonnet at The
Greenhouse in London to Simon Rogan at L’Enclume in Cumbria.
glance, it might seem an unlikely choice.
Why would anyone want to cook with leathery, olive-brown strips of dried
), let alone the fresh fronds of tangleweed?
But kelp, and especially kombu, is a magical culinary
ingredient. It intensifies the taste of savoury ingredients, yet it is rarely
seen by the eater.
Thus, you won’t
find the tiniest piece of kombu lurking on the plate of Helen Darroze’s poached
sea bass, for the kombu is infused into the poaching broth.
makes food taste better because it contains glutamic acid, which acts as a
Japanese further enhance this quality further by sun drying their kelp.
This ensures that the seaweed retains a
little moisture and forms a powdery white dusting called mannite, which is
particularly strong in glutamic acid. For this reason kombu is best when
lightly wiped before use.
however, require sensitive handling. Bonne’s method is to make a light kombu
liquid by first placing 20g of kombu in about three litres of soft mineral
Next, he explains, “we set
it over a low flame and remove it from the heat as soon as we see little
bubbles rising to the surface, which is about 90ºC.
We then leave it to infuse for about 20 minutes, before
Bonnet advises caution
at this stage, for kombu releases bitter, unpleasant seaweed flavours if left
for too long, boiled or cooked in hard water.
sea-scented kombu broth can be mixed with other stocks or added to dressings.
Bonnet, for example, mixes it with a pork consommé and reduces the mixture to
make the sauce for his delicious Pan fried arctic char with pork consommé,
seashore salad and
blends his kombu broth with wild herbs and grapeseed oil to create an intensely
flavoured herb dressing for asparagus in the spring and combines it with prawn
stock for prawn risotto with depth.
Other chefs, might infuse it directly into their finished stock or make
, the classic Japanese stock with
chef Richard Corrigan, whose restaurants include Corrigan’s Mayfair, believes
that dried kelp, like other seaweeds, captures a certain zeitgeist.
“It’s delicious, natural, wild and good
for you” he says, adding that in Ireland cooks have always used sea weeds, such
as carrageen and sea lettuce, as well as kelp. In summer, Corrigan poaches
brill with dried Irish kelp - “it makes a refreshing liquid to accompany the
Its uses don’t end there,
either. “If I’m really stressed out, I’ll infuse a mixture of dried Irish
seaweed into a really hot bath and have a good soak.
all culinary trends, the question is whether kombu, as well as other versions
of kelp, will spread to the domestic kitchen. In one sense, it already
Waitrose includes kombu in
products from its Heston From Waitrose range, such as Heston Blumenthal’s Beef,
Ale and Kombu Pie and his Ponzu Dressing. “We’re already looking at how to use
kombu in other ready-made products,” says Neil Nugent, executive chef at
“It really does make
food much tastier”.
will be whether Waitrose and other supermarkets start to sell dried kombu
itself. For, interesting as it is to infuse into broths, in my view it is even
more delicious used simply as a seasoning on fish.
It’s also very good infused into vegetarian dishes such as
tomato consommé, where tinned tomatoes are drained through fine muslin, or a
jelly bag. An added benefit of kombu is that it reduces the amount of salt
needed to season a dish. Try rubbing a tablespoon of sake into four 15cm lengths
of dried kombu, leave to soften for 10 minutes, then place each piece between
the flesh of two sea bass fillets (one fish per person) for no longer than 20
Then remove and grill or
fry the fish without further seasoning.
The result is the freshest, sweetest-tasting fish you can imagine.
keen to develop their kombu-cooking skills further should follow Shizuo Tsuji’s
advice in his classic book
Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art
His methodology can be easily adapted
to western recipes. You can buy kombu by mail order, from Japanese shops and
some health food stores – once you’ve tried it, you’ll come to depend on it.
available to mail order from www.japanesekitchen.co.uk
26 February , 2011
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