Fat Hen, the country’s first Wild Food Cookery School, has introduced a specialist Seaweed Foraging and Cooking Course this year to help keen cooks get to grips with the slippery stuff.
The one-day course will run on the 14th May and again on the 13th June. Participants will enjoy a foraging trip to some of West Cornwall’s most beautiful beaches, before returning to discover the preparation and cooking methods that will transform a slimy hoard into a selection of edible delicacies.
Seaweed – a nutritious, versatile and delicious food source which can be found in abundance on our coastline – is finally making a mainstream comeback. This long-overlooked ingredient is now finding its way onto restaurant menus and into the kitchen of the wild food enthusiast, with the help of ecological experts like Caroline Davey of Fat Hen.
“Historically, seaweed provided a stable source of food for coastal communities in Britain,” explained Caroline, who pioneered foraging courses when she began Fat Hen more than five years ago. A huge variety of seaweeds are used in Asian cooking, for example in Sushi or broths such as Dashi. However, apart from its use in Welsh laverbread, seaweed had died out as a common ingredient in the British Isles until recently.
“You can buy seaweeds – flown in from around the world and packed in plastic – from Asian supermarkets,” says Caroline, “however we have as many species present on our shores as in Japan – you just have to know what to look for and how to prepare it.” Michael Smith, Executive Chef at Porthminster Beach Café, has long been a convert to using native seaweeds. “We decided to try and make a Japanese-style Dashi broth, but using local ingredients,” he explained. Michael and his team tested and perfected their own dish, using Cornish sugar kelp instead of Japanese Kombu, as well as Dulse Seaweed and mackerel flakes to complete the dish.
The Fat Hen course will involve looking for these seaweeds, and many others, with tips on how to recognise them, where on the seashore they typically grow, and how to harvest them responsibly. “It’s really important, as with foraging in general, that you know what you’ve collected,” said Caroline. “Most seaweeds are not only harmless but are very good for you, however there are one or two to avoid. You should also be aware of tide times and areas where there might be pollution issues. That’s why it’s worth learning the basics from an expert.”
Returning to the recently renovated barn at Fat Hen, which houses an impressive demonstration kitchen, the foragers will create dishes featuring their finds. Laver seaweed cakes with a mussel & wild garlic sauce, Sezchan noodles with mixed seaweeds, tahini & sesame, carragheen seaweed pannacotta – these are just a few examples of what Caroline has in mind. Those taking part will be able to enjoy a three-course lunch featuring the dishes created, as well as a glass of wine to celebrate their efforts.
From its use as a seasoning or crispy garnish, to a substitute for salt in bread or a setting agent in desserts – seaweed is an exciting thing to cook with. It has been overlooked for so long that its uses are only really being rediscovered now, although its nutritional value has never been in doubt. With this resource lying in wait on our shores, seaweed may once again become a staple part of our diet.
Spaces are still available for the courses in May and June – go to www.fathen.org