Unusual Ingredient of the Week - Laverbread

Anyone who has experienced the sheer joy and exhilaration of walking along the beach will be familiar with the ozone, salty smell that accompanies such visits. You will probably have pretended to have been sea monsters by putting sea weed over your hair, running around and gurning madly, or spent ages just popping the seaweed or making sand drawings with washed up seashells.
I don’t think at any point during those youthful shenanigans that I still partake in when I get the chance to visit the seaside, that I considered eating the seaweed. Gritty with sand and small aquatic life (probably), I can't say that I have would have thought a fish flavoured vegetable would pique my appetite.
Laverbread is seaweed. I used to think that seaweed was inedible and existed for the plankton only until I met my husband. He is a huge fan of sushi, and whilst we can't get good sushi without hopping on a train and riding to London, what he did make me try was a revelation.
Who would have thought that raw fish and seaweed (in the form of Nori) could form such a delicious symbiosis? Well, actually, those of us who remember that fish and seaweed cohabit the, uh, sea or ocean.
Niggling marine-life semantics aside, I still prefer the tempura selection from Sushi bars to the actual sushi. Regular readers will know that I have an enduring love affair with deep frying that I try to keep restrained to a once-a-month treat, lest my cholesterol should start kicking up a fuss and causing strokes and other unpleasantries.
However, I humour my desire for deep-fried food with the occasional consumption of shallow fried food. I know, it actually sucks up more fat than deep frying but if I use olive oil, it's a little bit better, right?
But I digress wildly. We were talking about Welsh delicacy Laverbread. Specifically, Laver is a seaweed found clinging to sand embedded rocks on the Western Coast of Britain. Because the harvesting of the Laver is time-consuming it is not a cheap delicacy , yet it does not wear that badge of sophistication that its more desirable culinary sea buddies, caviar and smoked salmon have worn for years with snooty pride.
Admittedly, when you first open the tin of Laverbread, to be faced with very, very dark gunge that probably resembles a Gila Monsters brain, it could prove to be a little off-putting. A tentative tip of the finger taste reveals a non-fishy but marine-salty flavour tinged with that ferrous iron tang that you get with spinach or curly kale or spring greens.
It is not something I would want to eat straight from the tin, in the same way that I don't particularly like any cooked vegetable served cold from the tin (with the exception of sweetcorn which I can eat with joyous abandon) but according to the labelling, it is referred to as Welsh Caviar (See! It did get its badge of sophistication!), to be served on warm blinis or Melba toast.
The recipe I was interested in replicating was Laver Cakes, the most traditional and tasty way of serving this green gungy sea veg.
Laver Cakes are very easy to make but you have to mix the Laver with some oatmeal first otherwise you'll end up with a huge sticky goo in the pan and on your hands and that would just be disastrous.
Assuming that you are unable to source fresh Laver, straight from the slippery, wind and sea thrashed rocks of Coastal Wales, all of the hard work will have already been done for you. The endless rinsing and boiling of the Laver is not yours to worry about. All you need is a can opener and a desire to try new and unusual products.
I served these crisp little rissoles, which when cooked take on an almost egg-yolky taste, with fried bacon (you fry the Laver Cakes in the bacon fat) and a fried egg, sunny side up. The cakes are incredibly rich. I made us three each, which used up the whole tin (and at £4.20 a tin, not a cheap fry-up) and I could only manage to eat two. Paul did finish his but he couldn't manage mine as well. Stop Press News!

The good news about Laverbread is that restaurants are starting to use this nutritious (it is high in iron, protein and vitamins B2, A and C) little sea green more and more. It is used in Risottos, or is simply heavily seasoned with orange and lemon juice (with which it has a natural affinity) and served as a vegetable. It could be used instead of Spinach in Lasagne or as a slightly wacky filling for Ravioli. In Wales and Devon it is just served alongside another Seaside favourite, Cockles.
The possibilities for humble Laverbread, it would appear, are endless.
p.s. This is my entry for this weeks Weekend Herb Blogging held by the brilliant mind who invented WHB, Kalyn over at Kalyns Kitchen.

LAVERCAKES - makes 6
200g Tin Laverbread
70g Oatmeal
Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper
Bacon Fat for frying (optional) or Olive Oil with a little Butter

If you are using the Bacon Fat method, fry off your rashers in a dry pan until cooked to the crispness you like them. Remove from the pan and leave in a warm place.
In a bowl, mix together the Laverbread, Oatmeal, Lemon Juice and Seasoning.
Form the mixture into small patties or rissoles and drop into the bacon fat.
Cook over medium high heat (too high and the oatmeal will burn very quickly and taste disgustingly acrid) on both sides until golden brown and crisp.
Serve with the Bacon and a fried egg and perhaps some toast.


Kalyn said...

What a great entry. I've never heard of this ingredient before, so you know how excited I am to be learning something new. I love sushi, with the types that have nori being my favorites, so I'm guessing I'd like this quite a lot.

Truffle said...

What a great post! Looks brilliant. I've added a link to your blog :)

Ulrike said...

I saw this in TV: Gourmets in Wales enjoy algas. They called it also black bread. Then I saw it last year during our stay in Wales but I had no courage to try it. Next year I come back and try to overcome my aversion, it looks a bit like cow pat for me :-)

joey said...

I have never come across laverbread before but we do eat seaweed here :) Where my husband was born, they have a great seaweed called lato with little pearl-like pods that you can pop in your mouth...I have actually eaten it fresh out of the sea! :)

Gemma said...

I am scared of laverbread but never having tried it I guess I should just get over it because although I've always thought it looked scary your patties look delicious!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I love sushi, seaweed never invited me. You however have invited me. This Laverbread sounds like I want to check it out!
I'm sure the oatmeal cancels the bacon!
Great post!

Lydia said...

Laverbread -- absolutely new to me. What a wonderful and informative post. The only seaweed I've had is the nori sheets that wrap around sushi rice. Thanks!

Kelly-Jane said...

That was a really interesting and informing post. I have heard of it, but never seen it to buy.

tigerfish said...

:O Laverbread is seaweed??? Another education for me.
They called it different names at diff places...? coz I never seen laverbread in US before (or maybe I just don't spend enough time in the grocery store...ha ha).

Callipygia said...

Wow you go girl, this is hardcore seaweed! I happen to like seaweed of all sorts, here the only laver i've seen is dried. And I agree, toasted up it can take on that egg-yolky or even bacony flavor! Something nice to try is dulse.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating post - I'd never heard of Laverbread before!

Ari (Baking and Books)

Paprika said...

Sweet bread is not actually sweet and mince pies are not actually mince. And now you tell me Laverbread is not some dense German bread but seaweed! I'm so confused! :-) Love your blog!

Passionate Eater said...

Wow, that is so interesting! And I love the name, "laverbread." It is like "sweetbreads," so not a bread and not sweet or "laver" either!

Sig said...

Freya, you must be so brave to try cooking something that looks like that... But after cooking it looks great with fried eggs and bacon.

I've never heard of Laverbread, and even if I ever came across a can, would have never thought it was seaweed :). Thanks for the very informative post.

Kathryn said...

I didn't know that laverbread was seaweed-based either! I'm not scared of seaweed and these look really nice - comfort food.

Saffron said...

delicious and wonderful breakfast.
Yhanks for all the information you share with us.

Katie said...

I actually didn't know it was something other than the cakes!
I tried the cakes once in Wales, for breakfast, of course.
I decided it was, for me, a bit like black pudding - I'd like it better after a G & T (which I don't normally have before breakfast). I'll give it another go if ever presented with the chance....just for you!

Ricky said...

Wher can I buy laverbread in Canada?