Grocery Ninja: Korean Roasted Seaweed, Kim
The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here. Editor's note: Ling will be taking a brief hiatus from Serious Eats for the next couple of months, but she assures us she'll be back in June.
You are looking at a sheet of Korean seaweed, held up by a mini binder clip, and pegged to an iPod cable. There is a very good reason why the seaweed is being "hung out to dry," but it has nothing to do with the recent drizzly weather. I wanted to show you guys how much flimsier and more translucent it is (compared to the thicker Japanese seaweed, nori, used for wrapping sushi that most of us are familiar with), and my roommate was unable to hold the sheet up without giggling. "Tee, hee, hee," he would go, and the chopsticks would wobble, and the sheet would flutter, and my picture would be ruined.
Hence the makeshift iPod cable clothesline. Because, besides not having a roommate with steady hands, I also lack twine in my life.
The one thing I do have though, is seasoned and roasted Korean seaweed—also known as kankoku nori (in Japanese), or more simply, kim (in Korean). Thin sheets of seaweed are basted with nutty sesame oil and sprinkled with crackly grains of salt before being roasted to a crisp. If you're wondering how this makes it any better than the soy sauce-basted and toasted Japanese version called ajitsuke nori (usually found crumbled atop ochazuke or as a snug cummerbund around onigiri), the reason is fat. Since fat equals flavor, no fat equals less flavor. Some people prefer ajitsuke nori's subtleness. I find it lacks the wonderful fragrance and addictive salt kick that kim has.
On days when I'm too lazy to cook, I'll mix some brown rice with furikake and make mini handrolls using the tiny (3 by 4-inch) rectangles of pre-cut Kim. Or, I'll forego the furikake and break out the kimchi. I may even throw some frozen unagi in the toaster oven, and the resulting meal of sizzling terriyaki-glazed eel, kim, and seasoned brown rice, buys me a matchstick girl's moment of not feeling like an impoverished writer. No matter how you work it (kim), it's a quick, healthy meal with minimal clean-up.
The precut sheets of kim come in stay-fresh individual packs and are great for not sending green flakes flying all over the dining table when you rip one of the larger sheets apart. They also come in flavors like green tea, kimchi, bbq, peppers, and what have you. I'm not a huge fan of the flavored versions—I find the additional nuances detract from the sesame nuttiness of the plain kim.
The larger sheets (about 8 inches square), on the other hand, are indispensable for making kimbap—delicious Korean sushi stuffed with cooked ingredients like barbecued fish sausages, stir-fried beef, crab sticks, tuna, omelet ribbons, pickled radish, blanched spinach, and seasoned burdock root.
This weekend, I found the holy grail of kim. Freshly grilled ones in (of all places) Silicon Valley's Little India—Sunnyvale, California. Located at the back of a Korean grocery is a one-woman-operated stand under a neon-lit "fresh baked" sign. $4.50 buys you a generous pack of as-you-wait grilled kim, and you get to pick between salted and unsalted versions. The crackle on these is fantastic. And there's the guarantee that you won't get a pack of rancid kim (fat equals flavor, but it also means faster spoilage).
My hands shook like my roommate's when I reached out for a pack of these. But I stopped short of giggling like a little girl.
1092 East El Camino Real, Sunnyvale CA 94087 (map)
Open Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
About the author: Wan Yan Ling can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.