Carrageen moss is one of Ireland’s more unusual natural resources. First of all, it’s not a moss: it’s a seaweed. And to add to the confusion, there are any number of ways to spell its common name: carrageen, carrageenan, carragheen and carragheenan, take your pick. They’re all derived from the Irish word carraigín, which means “moss of the rocks” (though some think that the – án ending is actually an Irish diminutive, which changes the word’s meaning to “little rock” and connects it to a relatively common Irish place name).
At any rate, the scientific name of the Irish version of the seaweed is Chondrus crispus. This reddish-brown plant grows on or near just about every Irish coastline. It has been used for centuries as a food additive. Local people would gather and dry it — usually in the sun: this treatment bleaches it. When someone wanted to use it in a dessert (which might be a long time later, as dried carrageen lasts just about forever), all that had to be done was to soak the dried seaweed in warm milk or water, depending on the recipe. The seaweed then releases a delicate natural gel that acts as a setting agent when the dessert mixture cools.
These days, carrageenan’s main worldwide use is as a thickening agent in all kinds of commercial food preparations (shakes, ready made desserts, and so forth). But it’s still used in various Irish traditional dessert dishes, especially when the cook wants a more authentic effect than gelatine would produce. Probably its commonest use is in that ancient and traditional dessert, the blancmange — a light, molded sweet pudding. In blancmange, which must have a light and subtle taste to work correctly, the carrageenan adds a hint of the sea — a delicate flavor hard to identify but very habit-forming once you’ve experienced it.
Carrageenan can usually be found in health food stores, and can often also turn up in gourmet specialty stores.
Recipe via Meal-Master ™ v8.05
Title: Carragheen Moss Blancmange
Categories: Irish2, Desserts, Milk
Yield: 6 Servings
- 1/2 oz Dried carragheen moss
- 15 fl Full fat milk
- A few slivers lemon rind
- 3 Drops vanilla essence, or a vanilla pod
- 1 Large egg
- 3 tb Granulated / caster sugar
Soak the carragheen in warm water for 10-15 minutes. Discard the water and place the moss, milk, lemon rind and vanilla in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes over the lowest possible heat. As the mixture simmers gently, it will slowly and visibly begin to thicken.
Meanwhile separate the egg and, in a bowl, beat the yolk and sugar together until pale in color. Pour the milk and carragheen through a sieve onto the sugar and egg mixture; continue heating to ensure that both mixtures are evenly mixed and cooked together. Set aside to cool and settle.
Whisk the egg white until stiff and gradually fold into the carragheen mixture. Place in the refrigerator to set. If you wish to use a mold to set this recipe, wet it first so that the pudding will be easily released.
Serve chilled, with honey and a little whiskey beaten together with cream: or serve with a blackberry compote or stewed gooseberries.
View original article at: Ireland: Carrageen Moss Blancmange