Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Eat your weeds should be the beach equivalent of “eat your greens!” Seriously, though, seaweed are packed with antioxidants, protein and essential nutrients. Fortunately for kids who love beach days, foraging seaweed is a free (and addictive) family activity. You pick, you taste, you eat. We tried it in England and it was a first for us. Thanks to the friendly guidance of a master seaweed forager, we had a ball picking three types of seaweed that we brought home. As the tide rose again, my girls didn’t even want to stop filling their baskets. “There’s more!” they judiciously observed, surrounded by a square mile of the green stuff. Of course, there’s more, but you can always come back. The best part? Same day DIY seaweed popcorn on the beach!
Our seaweed afternoon started on the parking lot at the beach, where we met professional chef and forager, Lucia Stuart. She took a basket out of her car’s trunk and directed us to steps leading to the pebble beach. The air smelled of brine and potato chips, the changing wind bringing us wafts from the Coastguard Pub’s terrace on a sunny summer day.
On the pebble beach, we quickly reached rock pools covered with seaweed. To the untrained eye, seaweed at low tide look like a uniform green blanket verging on brown closer to the sea. This being close to the White Cliffs of Dover, the sea was a milky brown near the shore. At the edge of the rock pools, Lucia stopped and pulled a tiny book out of her basket. My girls listened.
“Now girls, any good seaweed forager needs to be able to read tide tables. Here, your dad will show you how.”
And so began our lesson in “eat your weeds.” Since seaweed need submerged rocks to hold on to, you can only forage seaweed at low tide. The lower the tide, the greater the variety of seaweed. Hence the importance of tide tables that tell you when the sea is at low or high tide. “Get there an hour before low tide and you’ll be fine,” explained Lucia. She went on to explain that seaweed were classified into green, red and brown–incidentally their order in appearance when the sea recedes.
We started with one of the most common seaweed out there, Ulva Linza. Lucia referred to it as mermaid’s hair and we quite liked that name as it described well the long tubular green algae. Seeing it drying on rocks in the sun, we didn’t think “dinner” right away. However, Lucia has a gentle way of explaining how to handle the weed and you feel like you have to taste it. We all tried, my girls included, and one of them is a fervent seaweed snack fanatic. While it doesn’t taste like the snack pack variety, it’s fresh and tastes salty with a subtle grassy aftertaste. What could we do with it? Seaweed butter, seaweed bread (our eyes went wide), dried seaweed sprinkled on rice and seaweed pasta. Did someone say pasta? My girls got down right away to start foraging.
As it turns out, foraging seaweed is pretty simple with a dose of common sense. Think of it as a veggie. Look for bright green algae, uniform in color and still fresh in the water. Avoid dry, discolored or rotting seaweed. Pull, give it a rinse in sea water, squeeze as much water out of it as you can and pack away in a plastic container or bag.
I made a short video of Lucia explaining some great things about foraging seaweed but I didn’t realize that the wind would cover her voice most of the time. Sorry, Lucia, II’ll bring a mike next time. Here it is below anyway. I hope you like sounds of wind in microphones!
We could have stayed focused on ulva linza and been perfectly happy but there was more. Lucia showed us the close cousin, ulva letuca also known as lettuce of the sea. We didn’t find lots of it but now we know what it’s like. The next one was brown and had the interesting name of serrated or bladder wrack (fucus serratus). Yes, I agree that seaweed was not named with the kitchen in mind. It’s nowhere as charming as flower names.
It was a tough cookie to chew, this one was, but we tasted it anyway. It was extremely salty and when pan-fried later in the day, made excellent savory chips. Some people just roast/dry it and grind it to make seaweed salt. Intriguing, right?
We then moved on red seaweed and the most amazing umami flavor I’ve ever tasted in an algae – pepper dulse, also known as truffle of the sea. Mind you, the appearances can be deceiving. Check this out.
You wouldn’t believe it by the looks of it but this tiny fern-like red seaweed is a favorite of starred Michelin chefs. My youngest daughter didn’t care for it but the other one fell in love with the taste and came back for more. It was everything a good snack should be – crunchy, tasty and naturally salty without being fishy.
Next to it was this tiny “thingymabob” creature that looked like a brown jellyfish but that I later identified as seaweed too.
Bold and hungry, my oldest went foraging armfuls of bladder wrack by the sea and encouraged me to to do the same with pepper dulse. “I like it very much, Maman!” she said. Alas, the little fern-like seaweed is seasonal and we discovered it at the tail end of its glorious mushroom-like season. There wasn’t too much of it and I felt like a seaweed scavenger going around the rocks by the cliff and snipping tiny ferns who dared show their fronds. Seasonal, huh? Now I’ll have to add to my seasonal watch-list seaweed too–as if fruit, produce and wild greens was not enough.
This concluded our seaweed foraging expedition and we pput away our discoveries in the car before foraging some more on dry land for dinner – elderflowers and wild leaves.
I dare say, the rental car smelled like low tide in full sun within the hour. The upside of seaweed! But we got it all home and dried it in the sun before grinding it. Now, we’ve got our winter seaweed meals sorted.