The World of Nori (Japanese Seaweed)

by Karen Shimizu Hundreds of kinds of edible seaweed are harvested in Japan; the ones referred to as nori are from a family of red algae called porphyra. These are the most commonly used in Japanese kitchens. Yakinori This nori is the most common style, available at supermarkets the world over. The crisp, toasted sheets are used for everything from making sushi rolls to crumbling over pasta. It's also the star ingredient in tsukudani, or pickled nori (see Pickled Nori). The best versions are smooth in texture with a uniform, dark green color and a lightly smoky and briny flavor; splotchy, reddish, and pale green sheets indicate lesser quality. It's best to keep yakinori in an airtight container or plastic bag to preserve its crispness. To achieve the ideal texture, retoast each sheet for a few seconds over an open flame before using.
These delicate flakes of dried, emerald-green algae have a powerful mushroom flavor and an earthy aroma. Sprinkle aonori over dishes like fried noodles, savory okonomiyaki pancakes, and steamed white rice, or use it to boost the flavor of soup broth and tempura batter.
Iwanori, or rock nori, is a green algae traditionally harvested from rocks near the mouths of rivers. Sun-dried and sold whole in delicate clusters, it has a concentrated, almost sweet marine flavor and is often added to tangy foods, like salad dressings.
Ajitsukenori is a nosher's nori. Made of yakinori sheets that have been basted with flavorings like soy sauce, sweet cooking wine, and wasabi and precut into ready-to-eat rectangles, this seasoned nori is great for garnishing a bowl of rice, adding to ramen noodles, or simply eating as a snack.
These dried sheets of untoasted nori are deep purple to black in color, springy in texture, and vegetal in taste. Namanori, meaning "fresh" or "raw" nori, is the most prized form of nori available: made from the highest-quality seaweed harvested at peak season, it's more expensive and harder to find than toasted yakinori. Some chefs toast namanori over charcoal immediately before using it in dishes like conical temaki hand rolls to give it a crisp texture and smoky flavor.
Aosa nori, or sea lettuce, is a green algae that can closely resemble aonori, but it's much milder in flavor, and less expensive, too. While its translucent, slightly bitter leaves can be eaten raw as a salad or cooked in soups, it's more typically sold dried in flake or powder form. In Japan, aosa nori is widely used as a savory seasoning in processed foods like potato chips and rice crackers.
It may be best known in the States as a wrapper for sushi rolls, but nori's contribution to the table is far more expansive in Japan. Cooks there choose various types to lend savory depth to all kinds of food: it's used to season and garnish rice in all forms; cooked in liquid to create sauces for grilled fish and vegetables; and snipped into confetti-like shreds to be scattered over everything from soba noodles to pizza. Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy nori. Norimaki Senbei
These salty-sweet rice crackers, flavored with soy sauce and sugar and wrapped in tiny squares of seaweed, are a popular (and addictive) snack.
Practically every convenience store in Japan sells these hand-shaped rice balls, made with plain or seasoned rice, stuffed with savory fillings like umeboshi (pickled plum) or fish roe, and enveloped in or garnished with sheets of nori.
As essential to the Japanese pantry as salt and pepper are in the U.S., this ready-to-use spice mix combines sesame seeds, bonito flakes, and nori. Try it sprinkled over warm rice.
Full-size sheets of yakinori form the flavorful outer layer of thick futomaki sushi rolls. The typically vegetarian fillings can include carrots, dried gourd skins, and thin slices of omelette.
Japanese-Style Linguini with Clams

This Japanese take on the Italian classic, made with sake-steamed littleneck clams, shiitake mushrooms, and julienned yakinori, is our new favorite way to eat pasta. The mushrooms and seaweed lend the umami notes provided by pancetta in the original dish.

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