Feature

Seaweed: The second coming of kale?

Kombu, nori, and other saltwater algae are turning up in everything from beignets to vinaigrettes.

“Seaweed isn’t just for sushi anymore,” said Amiel Stanek in Bon Appétit. In restaurants around the country, kombu, nori, and various other saltwater algae are turning up in everything from beignets to vinaigrettes. America’s chefs finally seem to be waking up to something that their peers in Asia and Scandinavia have always known. Seaweed’s “deeply oceanic umami-rich flavor” can add depth to many a dish.

“It doesn’t hurt that seaweed is a nutritional powerhouse,” of course. Packed with more iron than red meat, more vitamin D than milk, and more vitamin C than citrus fruits, seaweed also offers concentrated doses of zinc, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Bren Smith, owner of one of the largest kelp-producing operations in the country, predicts that those traits will put seaweed over the top. “Give me five years,” says the Thimble Island Oyster Co. founder, “and I’ll make kelp the new kale.”

Various dried seaweeds are easy to find in the Asian sections of supermarkets. Michael Cimarusti, the chef at Providence in Los Angeles, frequently uses wakame, nori, or kombu as flavoring agents. In the light dish below, kombu—a dried kelp—flavors the broth. Cimarusti tops the vegetables and broth with seared salmon, but sea bass, Arctic char, or any fatty, skin-on fish fillet could be substituted.

Recipe of the week: Salmon with winter vegetables and kombu broth

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, halved through root
  • 1 bunch baby turnips (about 12 oz)— greens torn into pieces, turnips peeled and quartered
  • 3 large shallots, sliced into rings
  • One 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 3 oz kombu
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry vermouth
  • ½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch-thick pieces
  • Six 4-oz pieces skin-on salmon fillet
  • Black pepper
  • 1 lemon, halved

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add onion halves, cut sides down, and cook, undisturbed, until dark brown, about 5 minutes.

Transfer onion halves to a large Dutch oven or other large pot. Add turnips, shallots, ginger, kombu, 1 tbsp salt, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a gentle simmer (do not boil, or broth will be bitter). Cook until broth is light golden and onion is soft, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Add vermouth to broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard onion halves and kombu. Add squash and simmer until just softened, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add turnip greens and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, season salmon with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat remaining 1 tbsp oil. Add salmon, skin side down, and cook until skin is very crisp, about 2 minutes. Turn salmon and cook 30 seconds longer (salmon will be rare; it will continue to cook in the hot broth.) Spoon broth and vegetables into shallow bowls. Top with salmon, skin side up. Squeeze lemon over. Serves 6.

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