Oceans of Flavor: Tsukudani (Pickled Nori)
While researching nori (see The Beauty of Nori), we invited chef Toshio Suzuki, of the New York City restaurant Sushi Zen, to visit the SAVEUR test kitchen. Suzuki is passionate about nori and over the years has devised new ways of using it. (In the 1960s, when his American customers were still leery about eating seaweed, he created the now ubiquitous “inside-out roll,” in which the nori is hidden within a layer of rice.) During his visit, he showed us how to prepare tsukudani, a traditional condiment of yakinori (see Recipe: Tsukudani), in which the toasted nori sheets are pickled in soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, and sugar and simmered down to a silken paste that lends a complex flavor—salty, sweet, and umami—to everything it’s eaten with. In Japan it’s used to garnish steamed rice; it’s delicious atop an omelette or stirred into soups, and it can even be used to flavor cream sauces and salad dressings. But Suzuki blew us away with one simple snack: a water cracker with a smear of the tsukudani, topped with a dab of sour cream. The preparation highlighted the subtle texture and briny flavor of the condiment, which now melted and lingered in the mouth like caviar.