Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The joy of foraging and eating seaweed

We are lucky in New Zealand to have one of the richest species diversities of seaweeds in the world. With at least over 900 species of which 50 can be readily used. Of these 50 or so edible species there are five types of seaweed that I recommended for everyday foraging. These species are readily available, tasty and can be used in a wide range of ways to enrich your seafood dining experience. Of course seaweeds are easier to catch too than fish!! Unlike mushrooms there are no poisonous seaweeds in NZ so you can experiment with the remaining species. Gathering seaweeds is fun and something that everyone in the family can participate in and a good way to fill in half an hour after a day’s fishing, providing the tides are favourable. Look for extremely low tides, otherwise by using snorkelling gear you will increase the diversity of seaweeds available. For me adding seaweeds to seafood dishes has enriched many meals and there are some significant health benefits from eating seaweeds from our clean waters. Overall one of the most common and harvestable seaweed species found throughout New Zealand is Wakame. This species has firmly spread its roots in our waters and is now widespread from Auckland down to the sun-Antarctic and even out to the Chatham’s. The spores are spread like wildfire allowing wakame to establish anywhere where there has been significant boating traffic. Initially seen as an invasive species in a negative way the tide has turned and now wakame is valued for aquaculture production and is harvested commercially in NZ now – being of significant economic value. Wakame is tasty seaweed that can be used in many ways. It has a rich flavour, is not too salty and a soft texture. The ultimate sea vegetable. Wakame has a distinct frill like base to its stem and just one large central blade. One heat is applied its colour transforms from a dense green- black to a bright green making it also more appealing to look at. With its soft texture the stem and fronds can be finely shred up, then add some sesame seeds and oil to make a tasty seaweed salad. Bladder kelp is also very tasty seaweed when fresh and cooked. Its flavour is a lot more salty than wakame. Also bladder kelp is generally found from Wellington south where it in places forms dense forests and is also a prized food of the butterfish. The fronds (leaves) can be dried and oven baked with olive oil to make kelp crisps. A healthy alternative to potato chips and very tasty. The fronds can be shred when stemmed and like wakame turn a bright green colour. Also the bladders can be jarred and marinated adding a crunchy element to a salad. Bladder kelp is also a good seaweed species to put in the smoker with some fish to wrap around a whole fish in the oven to act as an oven bag to kelp seal in the moisture if the fish and infuse the seaweeds flavour (a natural salty seasoning). In addition the dried leafs of the bladder kelp can be dried and ground into a power to make a seaweed sprinkle (which as a slight peppery flavour) and adds a lot of flavour to a wide range of seaweed dishes. - Karengo overall is one of our tastiest seaweeds with a strong umami flavour- which has been compared to bacon. It really is superb when dried out and then fried in a pan with butter and some lemon juice. The karengo grows around and is best harvested in the spring time. Neptune’s necklace is easily identifiable as its name suggests being a series of light brown beads. This seaweed is ideal for pickling in a jar with vinegar and adding some seasonings. When lightly heated it will turn a bright green colour. The fresh grown Neptune’s necklace makes the best eating. Its crunchy texture is a great addition with roast vegetables or with a salad. Bull kelp is also a southern seaweed and very practical. The blades from fresh bull kelp can be cut into seaweed chips that can be oven roasted. Bull kelp can be used as an oven bag itself to cook a whole fish or shellfish and infuses a very pleasant roast seaweed flavour into the food. Meats can be covered in bull kelp frond wraps to add flavour bull kelp and Kombu (in northern New Zealand) is ideal for this. Best for many types of seaweed to gather freshly beach washed materials as it saves you from having to take the wild plant. One of the advantages of getting your own seaweed is cost. Overall throughout most of New Zealand you can recreationally harvest seaweeds (just check that you are not in a marine reserve). Choosing areas of clean water is important when gathering seaweeds. Once harvested seaweeds need to be processed quickly, because they will break down in three days. Air drying initially then placing in a dehyradator is the best way. Once dried store the seaweeds in an air tight jar or ideally vacuum pack so they do not reabsorb moisture and go stale. Seaweeds can also be pickled, the Neptune’s necklace is ideal of that. Bladder kelp, wakame is ideal for steaming and then shredding and adding to a salad when fresh. As already mentioned some seaweed is tasty when smoked. Many of the brown seaweeds will transform from a dull brown to a vivid green when cooked- a cool trick for the kids- the colour change is as if by magic. The health benefits of seaweed are amazing, in many ways seaweeds are a super food and one in which there is increasing awareness and utilisation of in NZ. So diversify the flavours put on the table from your next trip out sea fishing and take a moment to grab some seaweed.