JP McMahon: Seaweed is Ireland’s great untapped resource

[UK] Two years ago I produced a T-shirt for our international chef symposium (“Food on the Edge”) that pictured a piece of seaweed with the slogan “we need to talk about seaweed”.

Seaweed is something I am passionate about with regards to Irish food. I really feel it’s an untapped food resource that we have yet to embrace. It should be our national vegetable. March is a wonderful time to go seaweed picking with the family, particularly around the equinox as the tides will be extremely low. I usually just google local tide times and head down about half an hour before the low tide. Do put your wellies on!

Recently I got a glimpse of Jamie Oliver discussing seaweed on Friday Night Feast (Channel 4). While I was thrilled to see the celebrity chef discuss these wonderful sea vegetables, I disliked the way the programme intimated seaweed was somehow something new, something just discovered by Oliver as he walked along the strand.

We have been eating seaweed on the “British Isles” for more than 10,000 years. It has provided nutrition to many coastal communities over the centuries. Laver bread, made with nori, is a staple if Irish and Welsh food history. Unfortunately, it is not made much anymore but I welcome its revival. Originally it was made with oats and nori that had been stewed for hours. I prefer to eat nori raw, straight off the rocks. Or simply use it to wrap a piece of fish and bake it for a few minutes in the oven.

Of all the seaweeds, I usually find myself returning to a handful of varieties. Of the kelp family, I find kombu, oarweed and sugar kelp the best for broths, soups and stews. In the middle, resides dillisk and nori which can be both cooked and eaten raw. Thirdly, the sea lettuce family, all vibrant and green, are delicious raw and paired with gently seasoned raw seafood, such as scallops or John Dory. One of the crown jewels of the seaweed family is the minute pepper dulse, often called the truffle of the sea.

 

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