Unlike the Japanese, the British are as wary of seaweed as they are of edible wild fungi. In fact almost all our common seaweeds are full of nutrients and delicious when cooked correctly. They are also easy to find in the colder months when winter storms rip them from their moorings and fling them onto the shore . . .
If the mention of coastal wild food brings anything to mind, for most people it means shellfish or perhaps beach fishing. Far more abundant and just as tasty, however, are our seaweeds.
Although the Japanese have long valued this delicious free food, but apart from the laver bread (see picture) used in Welsh cooking and Ireland’s carragheen, we British have turn our noses up at marine vegetables. As far as we are concerned, if they have any use it is either as an organic fertiliser or as food to produce some of our more unusual speciality lambs.
In reality they could be important parts of our diet, for they are rich in vitamins, trace elements and natural setting agents. True, some have strong flavours and can be an acquired taste, but they can also make the base for a variety of delicious meals. Harvesting these can also be guilt-free. Either beach-comb fresh scraps torn free by the waves or cut the growing stalk (or stipe) well away from its anchor (this allows the plant to regenerate).
Almost all seaweeds are edible, but a few are worth singling out. The long broad ribbons of oarweed are one: collect fresh strands from the tide line and air dry overnight before cutting into two-inch squares. Deep fry these for a few seconds to make a delicious salty chip that is the perfect accompaniment to a seaside sundowner. Or try the delicate aptly-named sea lettuce which grows on rocks around low tide. Steam lightly and serve with cream as an unusual alternative to spinach.