Ask Peter: Seaweed
I would like to include more seaweed (e.g.wakame, kombu, kelp, nori) in my cooking because it’s meant to be so good. Plus we’re surrounded by good New Zealand seaweed. Can you give me a few tips on how to incorporate it?
I’m a huge fan of seaweed and have been cooking with it for years. My earliest memories of harvesting it was when, as a child with my siblings, my paternal grandmother Molly would drive us down to Seatoun beach in Wellington and we’d be tasked with collecting it and tying it up in bundles.
Gran would then tie the bundle to the bumper of her Wolseley car and drive back through the Seatoun tunnel to her house in Strathmore — maybe 4 or 5 minutes away. She said this would ensure all the pebbles and shells trapped in it would have fallen out. I hate to think what might have been swept off the road at the same time — but too late to worry about that just now.
We’d then drag the bundle up the hill and most of it would be put into a barrel and it would slowly breakdown and become a concentrated liquid that she’d use to fertilise the garden, I suppose in the same way that the liquid produced by those wonderful worm farms is used nowadays. However, Gran would also keep a little of the seaweed in her pantry, where it would dry, rather like her rosemary or lemon verbena. And occasionally she’d add some of it to her stews, soups or stocks as she said it was full of nutrients and goodness.
And this “healthiness” is what has made it so popular in our diets today as we crave goodness. Seaweed is surprisingly low in salt considering where it grows — the flavour-boosting properties it has are due to a high concentration of glutamates rather than seasoning! It’s packed with calcium, along with numerous vitamins and minerals, specifically sodium balanced with magnesium —which our bodies really do need. And if that’s not enough the various varieties provide you with all 56 minerals and trace elements needed for the physiological functioning of your body.
I believe there are no poisonous seaweeds, but some have high concentrations of harmful (if eaten in enormous qualities) trace elements. One such seaweed is my favourite — the black tubular and slightly chewy Japanese hijiki. This appears on the “banned” lists of various food agencies from time to time, due to high levels of inorganic arsenic. However, I’ve been eating it forever and am still alive to write about it. As to which New Zealand seaweeds are edible — it really depends on what you want to do with it.
First of all, please don’t go out and strip all the seaweed from a rock — you can easily cause deforestation of sea vegetables, as you might if harvesting too many pipi from a bed. Always wash it well before using, by submerging it in cold water several times and then lifting out and draining in a colander. Don’t drain it into the colander as all the grit you remove will simply end back up on it. You can then dry it, laid out in the sun on kitchen towels, or strung up with string in an airy place. Keep turning it, so it dries out completely before storing in an airtight container. You can also freeze it, once washed, and it’ll keep for 2-3 months.
Thick seaweed, on the whole, is great for stocks and stews but it can be quite tough to eat and that can be unpleasant. I soak small pieces slices of kelp for a few hours in a light vegetable stock and then shred it and toss with steamed greens, especially Chinese greens like bok choy. You can also puree it in a bar-blender, once cooked and add back to a soup or stew.
The bright green sea lettuce can be added to salads, shredded first, and it goes really well with sliced sun-ripened tomatoes (one for summer then), coriander and mint, olive oil and lemon juice. It can also be dried then whizzed up into a powder and whipped into softened butter — great tossed with new potatoes or dolloped on to fish frying in a pan.
Local seaweed karengo is great dried, then baked in the oven at 160C, drizzled with a little sesame and olive oil until crisp and toasty. Sprinkle this on top of salads, mix into hummus,or eat as a snack with beer.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.