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Herring spawn on kelp may look unappetizing, but tastes delicious; the reason why Japanese gourmets pay small fortunes when they can obtain it. This delicacy possesses a mild and creamy, mildly salty taste, and a texture somewhere between crispy and spongy.
Spawn-on-kelp (sok) fishery has grown into a lucrative industry in British Columbia mainly controlled by First Nations who were already treading this delicacy with the Japanese early in the 20th century. British Columbia’s Sok industry produces 80 percent of the world demand and much of the 400 tonnes processed goes to Japan. A small percentage of the exports end up in Hawaii via Tokyo, and ultimately on the tables of wealthy Japanese industrialists visiting the islands.
Komochi konbu production occurs March to June, to coincide with the herring-spawning season, and requires gathering of kelp (leathery textured, dark green-brownish sea algae) and stringing them on lines hung in an enclosed bay.
Then schools of herring are rounded up, dragged into the bay, and released to spawn. The herring instinctively spawn on the kelp or other suitable surfaces, Once the fish have spawned, they are released and the spawn-covered kelp is harvested. The “kelp” is packed in brine and shipped, or frozen for storage up to a year.
Komochi konbu is also produced in the U S A ( California and Alaska) and Russia. Finish, Swedish and Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs are studying the feasibility of “farming”: kelp and getting herring schools to spawn on them.
For First Nations in British Columbia, this delicacy is an important source of protein, and plays an important role social and ceremonial role.
Japanese prepare komochi konbu by first soaking it overnight. The chef prepares dashi by combining soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice vinegar). Dried flaked bonito tuna may be added for extra flavour. Komochi konbu is then soaked in the dashi and served as a small appetizer, or sushi. The texture of this preparation must be al dente to satisfy connoisseurs.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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