Tag Archives: edible seaweed

Edible Seaweeds of the Welsh Wild West

09/07/19

The stunning Pembrokeshire coast

We have just got back from a week of Welsh sunshine on what is arguably the most spectacular coastline anywhere in the British Isles. It was a busman’s holiday for me, the main reason we were there being that I could search for seaweeds I can’t find in south-east England. Pembrokeshire is a seaweed forager’s dream: crystal clear water, large tidal ranges and a wide variety of different rocky habitats from sheltered to very exposed. And it is these most exposed areas which provide a home for species I don’t find at home. This post covers three of them.

Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata)

The first of these – Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata) – I do occasionally find washed up after stormy weather when walking my dog in Hastings, but I have no idea where it has come from, and it is not advisable to eat detached seaweeds, because you can’t tell how long they’ve been dead. The nearest place on the south coast I have ever found it growing is 150 miles west at Lulworth Cove in Dorset, and travelling anti-clockwise round the British coast from there it is rare or absent until you reach Yorkshire, only becoming common near the Scottish border. Sea Spaghetti is an almost hypnotically beautiful species of seaweed, because of the way its long fronds twist and turn with the movement of the water. I could watch it for hours, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is only fully visible when the tide is very low. In the kitchen it is usually used as a substitute for real spaghetti, either completely or 50/50. As such it provides a naturally gluten-free alternative to wheat spaghetti. Like most seaweeds it dries well, and in this case you should make sure it also dried straight, which makes for easier storage.

Flattened Acidweed (Desmarestia ligulata)

There are no poisonous seaweeds – at least not in the sense that we normally think of “poisonous”, but the second of my threesome is about as close to poisonous as a seaweed gets. It belongs to a genus (Desmarestia) that are sometimes called “Sea Sorrels”, which might mislead you into thinking they are good to eat. The land sorrels are excellent salad vegetables, with a tangy, lemon-like taste caused by the presence of oxalic acid. Desmarestia have another common name which might mislead you into thinking they are psychoactive: “Acid Weed”. Unfortunately, the acid in question is the sulphuric variety. Yes, you read that right, these seaweeds contain battery acid. Their internal pH is around 0.5, and if they break open in a container with other seaweeds, they will wreak havoc, destroying everything in the container, including themselves. I’ve never found and identified any of them before, but on one location near an old slate quarry, there was quite a lot of what I believe to be Desmarestia ligulata (which has various common names, such as “Flattened Acid Weed”).

Atlantic Wakame or Winged Kelp (Alaria esculenta)

However, I didn’t travel to the other side of the country to find Sea Spaghetti or Acid Weed; I was there to find the only significant edible native British seaweed I did not have a book-quality photograph of (I am currently working on a book on edible plants and seaweeds). Its Asian relative Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is very important in Japanese cuisine. Alaria esculenta has a confusing collection of English common names, including Badderlocks, Dabberlocks and Winged Kelp, but I shall call it Atlantic Wakame. It is reasonably common on exposed rocky coasts from Cornwall, all the way around clockwise to the equally-wild north-east coast of Scotland, but absent on the south and east coasts of England. What makes these Wakame species different from other kelps, both biologically and in

Dorothy inspection

terms of their food use, is their midrib. The midrib is perfectly edible (it is sweet and crunchy and can be eaten raw), but it is the other parts of the blade that are use for salads in Japan. The midrib provides structural support for the blade, which means the “wings” (the rest of the blade) are considerably more tender than other types of kelp, requiring less cooking (or less chewing).

Atlantic Wakame is at its best from early spring until about now. We just had some in a salad for our lunch. Recipe is described below.

Japanese-style Atlantic Wakame Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4 large blades Atlantic Wakame

    Atlantic Wakame Salad

  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • pinch of sea salt
  • one thinly sliced small home grown cucumber
  • two thinly sliced shallots
  • sprinkle of yellow and black sesame seeds.

Method:

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add the seaweed, bring back to the boil, then remove saucepan from the heat and let the seaweed soften for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the rice vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, oils and and grated ginger. Whisk in vegetable oil and toasted sesame oil and season with salt. Drain the seaweed, rinse under cold water and pat dry. Remove the midribs and slice. Mix the seaweed well with the sliced cucumbers and scallions, then spoon the dressing over it and garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Seaweed Foraging in Sussex

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk
28/05/2017

The first coastal foraging session of 2017 was enjoyed by all yesterday evening, and I have now decided to run a second course later this summer.  It has to be timed to coincide with the very lowest of spring tides, because some of the best species can only be found near the low spring tide line. The next suitable, available date is Saturday July 22nd, when low tide will be around 5.30pm. The precise location in East Sussex is a closely guarded

Almost everything in this photo is edible.

secret, only to be revealed to participants of the course. This is without doubt the best place for seaweeds (as well as other types of rockpool wildlife) anywhere in south-east England.

Over a dozen edible species grow in great abundance. I will be covering all of the well-known edible species that can be found on this part of the coastline, as well as one or two that you will not find in any of your books, even though they make great eating.

Ogonori with onions and sesame

The session will be two to three hours long, and will include an introduction to seaweed cookery, south-east Asian style. I’ll prepare a couple of dishes on the beach with freshly foraged seaweeds. Places are £25 per adult, £10 for under 18’s.  The event is not really suitable for very young children, or anybody with mobility problems, due to the slightly hazardous nature of the terrain. Please email me at geoffdann@hotmail.com for further details or to book a place.

Ogonori

 

Spicy Oarweed with anchovies

Oarweed

 

Pepper Dulse – Spice of the Sea

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715

11/07/2016

Laver (Porphyra sp.)

Laver (Porphyra sp.)

I’ve just returned from a week’s holiday in Pembrokeshire, much of which I spent wandering about near-deserted beaches at low tide in search of seaweed – specifically in search of really nice photos of edible seaweeds. Pembrokeshire is, of course, famous for one particular edible seaweed that is an essential traditional component of a Full Welsh Breakfast: Laver. When exposed on the rocks, Laver can look uncannily like the monster “Scaroth” from classic Doctor Who serial “City of Death”, but fortunately it’s rather more edible and highly nutritious. “Laver Bread” is made by simmering the seaweed (which must be repeatedly washed to get rid of the sand) for six hours, before mixing with oats and frying. Perfect for a slow cooker.

Dulse (Palmaria palmata)

Dulse (Palmaria palmata)

But it was Pepper Dulse I was really after. This is not to be confused with Dulse, to which it is not closely related and does not even vaguely resemble. Dulse is another famous edible seaweed, generally associated with Ireland more than Wales, but common around most of the coasts of the British Isles and very abundant in Pembrokeshire. Dulse is edible raw, with a strong “umami” flavour and a gently chewy texture, but is more often dried – like crisps before crisps, but better – or fried, or used in stocks and broths… The most obvious visual difference between Dulse and Pepper Dulse is the size of the fronds. Dulse is much bigger and noticeable. It can also be found much more easily further up the beach.

Pepper Dulse (Osmundia pinnatiffida)

Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatiffida)

Pepper Dulse can be a more elusive quarry. I found it on several Pembrokeshire beaches, but on each occasion it only became obvious in the half hour or so around low tide. It is also easily missed unless you know what you’re looking for – especially in terms of its size. It superficially looks a lot like any number of small, frilly, red seaweeds (although it is not always red, particularly if it is higher up the beach). You’ll know instantly that you’ve found Pepper Dulse though, the moment you smell it or taste it. “Truffle of the Sea” (as it has been described elsewhere on the internet) is a bit misleading, but it certainly qualifies as “Spice of the Sea”. It is at its strongest nibbled raw, when it has a taste and smell that is something like a mixture of garlic, pepper and some of the more aromatic fungi in the genus Lactarius (the spicy milkcaps).

Pepper Dulse closeup. Each frond is smaller than a fingernail.

Pepper Dulse closeup. Each frond is smaller than a fingernail.

Collecting it can be a bit of a bind, especially if the tide has rendered you short of time or you are knee deep in the waves. But simply ripping it off the rocks is counter-productive, because you’ll end up with loads of the wrong sorts of seaweed, as well as bits of rock and sand. Ripping the holdfast off also prevents it from regrowing, and you will need to remove it later anyway. A sturdy pair of scissors are the best option.

If you aren’t going to eat it fresh then Pepper Dulse can be dried and powdered, at which point it becomes a spice to rival anything you’ll find in a traditional curry recipe. The only problem is that it tends to lose some of its potency and you’ll need to collect quite a lot of it in order to end up with a decent amount of dried seaweed spice. As things stand this seaweed is still relatively unknown as an edible species. I suspect as the foraging revolution continues to gain pace, it won’t remain overlooked for much longer. It is unquestionable the most flavoursome edible European seaweed, and everything about it suggests it has a bright culinary future.

Nursehound

Nursehound

I didn’t spend the entire week on a beach. I also went sea fishing – something I have relatively little experience of. Most of the fish weren’t biting, but I did get lucky with quite a few members of the shark family, most notably the Nursehound. This species is one of several sold in fish and chip shops under the name “huss” (it is also called “Bull Huss”). Traditionally it was not just eaten, but its skin used as a high quality and extremely expensive alternative to sand paper. I learned about this the hard way, the skin on my hands being ripped to shreds as I skinned the biggest of the day’s catch. Most of the others were returned to the reef.

I have to say that my first visit to Pembrokeshire is unlikely to be my last. There’s a reason why it is the only coastal national park in Britain – the geology is spectacular. It is also the perfect playground for a forager. Cornwall without the crowds.