Kombu Tsukudani – A Japanese Relish
Kombu Tsukudani is a Japanese preparation, similar in some ways to a Korean Banchan, along the lines, of my Namul of Daikon Greens. Here, though, this Tsukudani uses the edible seaweed known as Kombu for its main ingredient. Like its Korean counterparts, it keeps very well, can be used as a cold side-dish, and is particularly good as a flavorful topping for plain rice.
A Tsukudani made with Kombu often includes other umami marine ingredients such as Katsuobushi (dried, smoked tuna flakes) while a preparation consisting only of Kombu boiled down in Japanese soy sauce is more properly called ‘Shiokombu’. The preparation you see above is somewhere between the two. It is a little more complex than a very basic Shiokombu, but it contains no animal products and thus could be used as part of a vegetarian meal.
Here is the reconstituted piece of Kombu I am using. You can simply soak a piece of dried seaweed in warm water for 10 or 15 minutes, or you can do as many people do and use a piece leftover from making the stock known as Dashi. If you are doing the former method, save some of the soaking water for the cooking fluid. You can use just plain water in either case but actual Dashi will provide the most flavor.
First, slice the Kombu into thin shreds. This is easiest if you roll pieces of the frond and slice crosswise. You can make thicker shreds, if you like, or even cut the Kombu into smallish squares. You should have roughly a cup of shreds when you are done.
Mix the sugar, soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger (if using) in a small saucepan and heat over a moderate flame until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is just beginning to bubble.
Now add the Kombu and the water (or dashi). Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or so.
When the liquid is just about all evaporated and what remains is syrupy, stir in the sesame seeds and remove from the heat to cool. The relish will keep for at least two weeks until ready for use (although this is likely only a concern if larger amounts are made for multiple uses).
Tsukudani is sometimes used to stuff the Japanese rice balls known as Onigiri but it is especially good to add a little fillip to plain steamed rice as shown above. Other uses may include serving it as a side dish, or appetizer salad, and it can work very nicely as a condiment for other preparations, such as Grilled Octopus, for example.
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Kombu Tsukudani Recipe
- A 6 or 8-inch piece of Kombu reconstituted by soaking
- 2/3 of the Soaking liquid from reconstituting the Kombu
- 2 tbsp. Sugar
- 4 tbsp. Japanese Soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. Mirin
- 1 tbsp. Rice Vinegar
- ½ tsp. minced Ginger
- Pinch of Sesame Seeds
- Slice the Kombu into long, thin shreds.
- Mix the sugar, soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger (if using) in a small saucepan and heat over a moderate flame until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is just beginning to bubble.
- Add the Kombu and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or so.
- When the liquid is syrupy, remove from the heat, stir in the Sesame Seeds and allow to cool.