Giving kelp a chance

[USA] Seaweed may not melt in your mouth, but crumbling it makes a fine seasoning for tilapia.

A handful of the dried red seaweed variety can provide a colorful bed for clams and sugar kelp noodles, and mixed with eggs and a little Parmesan, it might just give the Egg McMuffin a run for its money.

At least that’s the hope of chef Jeff Trombetta, a culinary arts professor at Norwalk Community College, who works with the University of Connecticut’s Marine Science Division to develop hundreds of recipes for Long Island Sound kelp.

“Kelp (a seaweed variety) plays off on different foods,” said Trombetta, extending a ribbon of the stuff in front of an invited audience at the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science & Technology Education Center.

The occasion was the marine sciences school’s fifth annual Chef Event, featuring a number of school-cultivated products including clams, tilapia and the star of the evening, kelp.
Chef Jeff Trombetta, Culinary Arts Professor from Norwalk Community College, holds a strand of locally cultivated kelp during the Culinary Culture cooking demonstration held at the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture School, in Bridgeport, Conn. June 7, 2017.

A sea vegetable that is high in protein, low in cholesterol, kelp is grown by both the college in Long Island Sound and the school, in laboratory tanks. Tons of it.

Aqua Director Lea Catherman said the idea was to give the community a chance to see how the product — which is processed and sold by Aqua in its fish market — can be used.

“A lot of people (say) ‘We don’t know really what to do with that,’ ” Catherman said. “It is one of those super foods, and we want to find ways to enjoy it.”

By the time it is used in recipes, locally processed kelp has been through a seaweed noodling machine, boiled, then put in an ice bath and vacuum sealed.

Chef Jeff Trombetta discusses an ingredient during a Culinary Culture cooking demonstration.

With two of his Norwalk college students and seven Aqua seafood science high school students acting as sous chefs, Trombetta walked a crowd of parents, staff and community members through the paces of several dishes.

He employs something he calls “ratio cooking,” in which ingredients are sized up against each other. The chef envisions an end product and builds toward it.

“When I cook with kelp, I tend to be heavy-handed,” Trombetta said. “I want to taste it. … It reacts well with enzymes in other foods.”

Kelp is versatile. Trombetta treats kelp like any other green vegetable.

Some at the demonstration were easily sold.

“I thought they were great,” said Harold Mackin, a state Department of Education consultant for agriculture and technical high schools. “I never ate raw fish before and enjoyed the tuna with seaweed.”
University of Connecticut professor Charles Yarish, the state’s biggest kelp cheerleader, was also in the audience.

He touts seaweed as a super food and is trying to give kelp the fan base he said it deserves. The global seaweed market is expected to reach $22 billion by 2024 according, to Forbes Magazine. The U.S. accounts for a fraction of that total.

Nayelli Cuevas, 16, an Aqua student from Bridgeport, remains on the fence as far as taste goes. She called working in the seafood science program “really cool.” Kelp, not so much. She was, however, willing to give it a try.

 

Photo: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

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