Serving up seaweed
PUBLISHED: 14:22 13 November 2020
MAster seaweed forager Rachel Lambert shares secrets from the shore - and some tasty recipes for your finds
Master forager Rachel Lambert has been building up her foraging expertise since her early twenties when she moved to rural Devon. Now living in Penzance, this year she celebrates her tenth anniversary running foraging courses and teaching the art of finding foods in the wild. She has learned about foraging in Europe and Asia and in rural England. But it wasn’t always so. Having grown up in the city, her foraging experience was limited – like many of us – to blackberry picking. ‘It’s still foraging,’ she tells me. ‘But there are hundreds of things you can forage – I probably know about 200 of those, and I teach a much smaller number on my courses.’
Having published her first book, Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in 2015, her second Seaweed Foraging in Cornwall has been awarded a food book ‘Oscar’. Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2017, in the category Fish.
The book focuses on 16 varieties of edible seaweeds found around the coasts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and is both a detailed guide to their identification and nutritional qualities and an inspirational recipe book, offering 32 step-by-step recipes, and over 90 photographs.
She learnt about foraging in Europe and Asia, and has been teaching wild food and seaweed foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for ten years.
‘Everything that’s cultivated today has a wild origin – and the things we forage are the unadulterated versions,’ explains Rachel. ‘We used to have a much broader diet, and much of that has been forgotten.’ Foraging also brings new flavours to our palate offering new and exiting contrasts.
So how does Rachel eat her foraged goodies? ‘My most recent meal was bread with Alexander seeds which have a spicy-bitter flavour and a wild salsa verde featuring seasonal seaweeds.
Her courses have become immensely popular to both locals and visitors to Cornwall, looking for a foodie element to their visit beyond a visit to Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. ‘It’s a fantastic way of enjoying and appreciating and learning about the environment, as well as discovering new flavours,’ she says of her courses which attract a wide range of people, from older couples, to young families. ‘Foraging is an area that’s growing and it’s becoming increasingly trendy and people are becoming more aware of it.’
And as our love of experimenting on foodstuffs has grown, seaweeds have increasingly found their way on to our plates – think of Samphire, sea spinach and sea lettuce. At this time of year (the seasonal aspect to foraging include the sea’s bounty) you’ll find pepperdols – the black seaweed we love to pop – and XXX in abundance
‘Seaweed is still something quite alien to people – they don’t know what to do with it,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t all taste the same – there’s a real range of flavours, textures and uses. Some works in stocks and broths, some are really good as condiments, some for baking, and even some for setting things like panacotta.’
Seaweeds are also incredibly rich in minerals and vitamins. ‘We would have used these for thousands of years,’ she adds. ‘You can use them for salsa, breads, ice creams and hummus to noodles and soups.’ And if foraging sounds like too much hard work – you can get it ready foraged. ‘I really rate the Cornish Seaweed Company,’ she says.
The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards are regarded as the Oscars of food and drink books, with 89 categories for food and wine books. In 2016, books from 209 countries competed for the awards. Previous winners in English include Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. ‘This book is an intimate voyage to the beaches and the sea,’ says Edouard Cointreau, President of the Jury. ‘It is well written, and useful. It is a model for books that could be done similarly in other regions and coasts in many countries.’
Seaweed Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly now goes through to the final round of the Gourmand Awards, and will be judged against books in other languages for The Best in the World. The results will be announced in Shanghai, China, in May.
Seaweed Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, by Rachel Lambert, £6.95 alisonhodgepublishers.co.uk
Rachel runs Wild Food Foraging courses, to book and found out more visit wildwalks-southwest.co.uk
Chicken Broth and Laver Bread A lightly flavoured seaweed soup. If you can, use homemade chicken stock for an added depth of wholesomeness.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Chicken stock (makes about 2 litres)
• 1–2 raw or cooked chicken carcasses
• 1 onion, peeled and chopped
• 1 carrot, washed and sliced
• Bunch of parsley stalks
• 2 sticks of celery with leaves, or equivalent in Alexanders, chopped
• 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
• 20 g dried bladder wrack (60 g fresh)
• 2 litres water
• 1.8 litres chicken stock
• 4-cm length fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
• *5 g dried bladder wrack tips, sliced, or whole if small/tender enough, rehydrated
• 6–8 spring onions, trimmed
• 100 g rice vermicelli noodles
• 100 g shredded green cabbage
• 400 g shredded cooked chicken
• Soy sauce or fish sauce (optional)
• Black pepper, to taste
For the stock: Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, cover with 2 litres of water, bring to the boil, and simmer, covered, for 3 hours. Strain and use the stock as follows (this also freezes well for later use).
For the broth: Bring the stock to the boil; add the ginger and bladder wrack, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. If using bought/premade stock, remove three-quarters of the bladder wrack now. Add the rice noodles according to packet instructions, followed by the shredded cabbage and finely chopped spring
onion in the last minute. Pour over the cooked chicken, reheat gently, and flavour with soy sauce or fish sauce if liked. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.
*If using bought/pre-made chicken stock, add an extra 15g dried bladder wrack, removing excess pieces of seaweed before serving.
Laver/Nori Porphyra species
(Porphyra dioica, Porphyra drachii, Pyropia leucosticta, Porphyra linearis, Poryhra purpurea, Porphyra umbilicalis)
A wonderful translucent seaweed, each species of porhpyra has slightly different eating qualities and tastes.
A fine, translucent seaweed varying from purple, purple/brown to olive green
Can feel like thin plastic (it has a slight bounce when pulled) and look like sheets of plastic stretched over rocks when dried
Generally between 20-30cm in length. Can be attached at one end, or in the middle
Where Lower to mid shore, up to 15 m subtidal. On rocks, sand as well as growing off other seaweed species. All species can be found across the region
Parts to Use All, keeping holdfast intact and never stripping a whole rock of laver
Season: Thrives well during Winter, till and including Spring
Nutrition: High in protein, and a good range of vitamins and minerals, including B, C, E and beta-carotene
Suggested Recipes and Uses
Use in laver ‘bread’, as a vegetable added to soups, stews, quiche, bread or even sweet dishes such as molasses cookies. Use raw laver in similar ways; torn into pieces for soups or stews, or dried and ground into sweet or savoury baking, or in quick sushi.
TIPS - Wash really thoroughly (several times) if picking from sandy beaches. Submerge in a container of water, allow the sand to settle to the bottom and rinse again. Can use as a vegetable rather than just a condiment. I think raw laver is just as tasty as cooked.
Swirled Laver Bread
Technically traditional laver bread refers to the black pulp of cooked laver, which makes this a tasty laver bread bread.
Laver (fresh or dried)*
Swirled laver bread loaf (makes 1 loaf)
400 g white flour
100 g spelt or wholemeal flour
1 tsp dried active yeast
½ tsp sea salt
1 dsp vegetable oil
150 g cooked laver bread
1 tsp honey
200 ml warm water
Little extra flour for rolling
Technically, traditional ‘laver bread’ refers to the black pulp of cooked laver, which makes this a tasty ‘laver bread’ bread.
“I recommend cooking batches of at least 250g fresh laver to justify the energy used to cook it. Cooked laver freezes well in a airtight container or sealed , for later use.
To make laver bread: If using fresh laver rinse thoroughly in several changes of water to remove any sand or debris. If using dried, re-hydrate for 10 minutes and use the same water for cooking. Place in a saucepan and cover with water - the seaweed will float to the surface so be careful not to add too much water and attempt to submerge it completely. The goal is for the laver to absorb all the water while cooking. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 3 hours, or until the seaweed breaks down into a pulp. Check and stir regularly to avoid boiling dry, adding a little extra water if required. Liquidise the final pulp to ensure it’s broken down into slightly smaller pieces.
For the swirled laver bread loaf: Oil a one-kilo loaf tin and put aside. Mix together the flour, yeast, salt, oil and 75 g of laver bread in a large bowl. Stir in and dissolve the honey in the water and gradually stir into the flour mix until you have a workable ball of dough, neither too sticky or too dry. Knead the dough for 10 minutes or until the dough starts to spring back. Place in a bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 30-60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Break the dough into two equal pieces, sprinkle a small amount of flour onto a clean surface and roll each piece of dough out into approximately 30 x 10 cm lengths. Spoon the remaining laver bread along the middle of each strip (keep 2cm free from the sides and ends). Carefully lift up one end of a dough and start to roll it up, lifting as you go, rather than pushing. Pinch the edges as you go to ensure the laver stays inside, also pinch the sides once complete and place roll at one end of the tin. Repeat with the second length, filling the tin. Next preheat the oven at 190(C. Cover and leave to rise for a further 30 minutes before baking for 40/45 minutes. Remove from tin, allow to cool and enjoy.