Culinaria: JP McMahon on cooking with seaweed
Before the introduction of the potato to Ireland, seaweed was a staple foodstuff for many living along the coast. Archaeologist Michael Gibbons has written about how the medieval Irish farmed seaweed in sophisticated ways.
Today, seaweed is perhaps less used in everyday household cooking. Yet books such as Sally McKenna’s Extreme Greens: Understanding Seaweeds show how easy it is to cultivate and cook with seaweed in simple and healthy ways.
My two favourite seaweeds are sea lettuce and kelp (kombu). Both can be found at low tides along our coastal beaches. I like to use sea lettuce raw in seafood dishes. If fresh, simply clean in cold water; if dried, rehydrate in warm water.
For a simple mussel salad, briefly cook some mussels in white wine until they open (discard any that do not). Strain the mussels (keep the liquid) and pick the meat from the shell. Place the mussels in a container and pour the reserved liquid over them to keep them from drying out.
To prepare your salad – halve a handful of baby radishes and lay them on a large plate. Scatter the mussels over the radishes and dress with a few salad leaves. Finally, lay little strips of sea lettuce over the dish and dress with a little olive oil and sherry vinegar. Season to taste.
An Irish dashi may sound like a strange thing but in Aniar we make a wonderful example of this rich broth. In a large pot, place a handful of dried wild mushrooms, a few dried kelp strips and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and immediately reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When it is cold, strain it.
Warm the clear liquid and season with a pinch of sea salt. Place some shaved fennel and smoked salmon strips in two bowls. Dress with a little balsamic vinegar and pour the warm dashi down the side of the bowl until it gently covers the ingredients. Garnish with fresh dill.