Wow, it’s over a week since I brewed up a slimy batch of hijiki, so what can I remember of the process? Actually it was all rather memorable since cooking with seaweed does not have much of a place in even the most adventurous cook’s repertoire in Britain. Even shopping for it was something of a new experience: the seaweeds (of which I have purchased konbu and nori in various forms before) had an entire height of shelves to themselves and were all, as far as I could tell, dried. On pinpointing the particularly spindly, black variety that is hijiki I was confronted with options of normal and long hijiki plus a more expensive ‘made in Japan’ variety. I plumped for the latter as a scaremongering train-of-thought started in my mind about how the ones that didn’t come from Japan probably came from China, and then onto thinking about how China’s sea water might be doing on the pollution front…Actually I have no idea how people grow/make/farm/harvest (delete as appropriate) seaweeds: they might all emerge under UV lamps in salty hydroponic factories, congealing from some algae substrate for all I know (although I think they are probably just fished out of the sea). My hijiki was slightly alarmingly Tesco-branded, so it must have been mass-produced in some environmentally damaging immoral way.
First thing to do with it when you get it out of the bag is to rinse and soak for about half an hour. The brittle strands swell to Medusa-like glistening black tendrils and are particularly disgusting to handle at this stage. So straight into the pot they go, with carrot and fried tofu (age – the recipe called for pork instead but I’m not keen on they kind of fatty pork bits I can get in my first floor supermarket) and the usual mirin, soy sauce and sake combination.
The result tasted very much of the sea and general hardy healthiness. I can’t say it was delicious, but it certainly was edible and much helped by some unorthodox use of furikake (flavoured sprinkles for rice).
I made this dish at the beginning of Japan Fashion Week in which I was running around to shows and writing about them. To make something portable that could be eaten on the hoof, I decided to make hijiki onigiri (the rice triangles usually with a filling in and nori seaweed wrapped around). Again, my brown rice, which I stubbornly insist on using caused some problems in that it is not as sticky as the white variety, so the onigiri was rather crumbly. Luckily, I had some onigiri cases to hold the shape in place: you line one half of the triangular clam-shell box with cling film , and layer in the rice and filling, then click close. And they are decorated with my beloved Little Twinstars (who beat Hello Kitty any day) cooking! While Lala reads him the recipe, Kiki is stirring what seems to be a carrot, pink flower and sponge soup. Kiki and Lala always have the best food: I tried to get the caterers cut the sandwiches into star shapes for my wedding in homage, but they refused for some reason. They should have been thankful I didn’t ask for hijiki sandwiches.