Saturday, July 22, 2017

COOKING WITH ALGAE

Every now and then a new product or ingredient shows up in my kitchen to pique my culinary interests. This week my son Ben came home from a trip to Galicia and Asturias (northern Cantabrian coast of Spain) with a bagful of cans and jars of products made with algae and a cookbook to go with them.


Where seaweed is coming from--intertidal waters on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Cocina con Algas (Cooking with Algae) is an introduction to seaweed cuisine published by Porto-Muiños, a small, family-run company in A Coruña that packages edible seaweed harvested in Galicia and products made with seaweed.

In the book's intro, the company’s owner, Antonio Muiños, enthusiastically relates the firm’s mission as to take seaweed out of the exotic and make a place for it in the everyday diet. He’s collaborated with two well-known chefs, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch (Michelin-starred Disfrutar in Barcelona) who developed the recipes with the object of ending the prejudice that seaweed is only for Oriental cuisines and of bringing verduras del mar (“sea vegetables”) to a wider public.

Some of the seaweeds and products in the test kitchen of Porto-Muiño in A Coruña (Galicia). (Photo by Ben Searl.)

My adventures with algae began with processed seaweed products, packed in cans and jars, brought back from Galicia. I have wakame al natural; a Japanese algae salad (with three kinds of seaweed in a soy sauce dressing); mussels with wakame in escabeche. At my local health food shop I found a full range of dried seaweeds. I came home with a “starter kit” of sea spaghetti and kombu. 

The cookbook includes directions for preparing each of eight different seaweeds (in addition to sea spaghetti and kombu, they are sugar kelp, sea lettuce, wakame, Irish moss, nori and dulse).

Kombu requires 8-10 minutes soaking to rehydrate it, then 35-40 minutes cooking in water. Sea spaghetti, also known as "thongweed," long, brown “noodles,” requires 10 minutes soaking and only 10 minutes cooking. Both increase their volume about four times. Wakame needs 10 minutes to soak and 5 minutes cooking. It increases weight by ten times. (I used wakame canned in brine, so I didn’t need to soak and cook it.

How do they taste? Kombu has a pleasant iodine-y, seawater taste with a slight smokiness. It’s not at all fishy, but makes a good addition to soups and rice dishes in place of seafood. It’s chewy, in a nice way. The sea spaghetti is mild in flavor—sort of vegetable-y, think green beans and asparagus—with a texture like al dente linguine. Wakame has a delicate seafood taste, meaty texture and a slightly slimy consistency. Perfect in stews, I think.

Tips from the Porto-Muiño test kitchen:
•    Add a piece of seaweed to the pan when steaming open clams or mussels. Amazing flavor enhancer.
•    Spread dried seaweed (not soaked), such as sea spaghetti, kombu, sea lettuce, wakame, sugar kelp, nori or dulse, on a baking sheet and roast at 350ºF 5-8 minutes, or until very crisp. Break it up and crush in a mortar. Shake it through a sieve. Use the seaweed powder as a seasoning in place of salt. It goes well with eggs, fish and all vegetables.
•    After rehydrating sea spaghetti, drain it well, pat dry and toss in flour. Fry in olive oil until crisp and golden. ("Tastes just like chanquetes," says Ben.)


Here are some recipes adapted from Cocina con Algas.

"Russian" potato salad has pureed seaweed added to the mayo.

Filleted sardines are briefly baked with a filling of Japanese-flavored seaweed.

Noodles!--thin strips of squid, whole-wheat spaghetti and sea spaghetti (seaweed) with a garlicky ink sauce.

Potato Salad with Seaweed Mayonnaise
Ensaladilla Rusa con Mayonesa de Algas



Ensaladilla rusa, or “Russian” salad, is one of the most popular of Spanish tapas. It’s a salad of diced potatoes, carrots and peas dressed with mayonnaise. In this version, part of the mayonnaise is replaced with “tartare sauce” made with pureed algae.

I cooked the potatoes in a pan of boiling water with the kombu seaweed that I used to make the tartare sauce, adding the sea spaghetti for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Serves 6 as a tapa or side dish.

1 ¼ pounds potatoes (2 large)
1 carrot
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup cooked or frozen peas
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped red pimiento or piquillo pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped sweet pickle
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ teaspoon or more salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup seaweed tartare sauce (recipe below)
Vinegar (about 1 tablespoon)
Chopped chives to garnish
Bread sticks or regañas to serve


Put the potatoes and carrot in a pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes, depending on size. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them in ¾-inch dice. Peel and dice the carrot as well.

Place potatoes and carrots in a bowl and add the oil. Add the egg, chopped pimiento, scallions, pickle, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, mayonnaise and tartare sauce. Add a little vinegar to thin the sauce. Stir it into the potatoes. Taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed. Chill the salad.

Serve the potato salad in individual tapa dishes. Sprinkle with chives. Accompany with bread sticks or crispy regañas crackers.

Tartare Sauce with Seaweed and Olives
Salsa Tartar con Algas y Aceitunas

This is my own version of a seaweed tartare sauce, an ingredient called for in the recipe for ensaladilla rusa (“Russian” salad) in the algae cookbook. The sauce is produced by the Porto Muiños company, but I did not have a sample of it.

This makes about 1 ¼ cups sauce, more than you will need for the potato salad. Use the rest as a dip, straight or mixed with mayonnaise. Suggestions from the cookbook are to use it with smoked salmon, on toast with fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar; with stuffed eggs; with potato foam.

I used three kinds of seaweed in the sauce blend--sea spaghetti on the left, kombu on the right and wakame below.

½ cup cooked kombu
½ cup cooked sea spaghetti
½ cup cooked wakame
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice


Put the three kinds of seaweed in a blender or food processor and blend them until fairly smooth. Add the shallot, mustard, olives, oil, salt and lemon juice and process until sauce is very smooth.

Sauce keeps, refrigerated, for 1 week. 

Baked Sardines Stuffed with Seaweed
Sardinas al Horno Rellenas de Alga

Sardines with a Japanese flavor, seaweed stuffing and shitake sauce.
 

This recipe, straight from the cookbook, uses two prepared ingredients—Japanese seaweed salad (with sea spaghetti, wakame, kombu, olive oil, sunflower oil, soy sauce and sesame seed) for the stuffing and shitake mushrooms Japanese style for the sauce.

The recipe calls for the sardines to roast for only 2 minutes. I roasted them 3 minutes and they were barely done. Maybe the chefs intended for them to be raw-ish, a la Japanese.

Serves 2.

6 sardines
1 can Japanese algae salad (ensalada de algas a la japonesa Porto-Muiños)
Salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 can Japanese-style shitake mushrooms
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
10 bean sprouts
6 sprigs of cress 

Use fingers to "unzip" the spine of sardines.

Remove heads, scales and guts from the sardines. Rinse them in running water. Using fingers, pinch the center spine of the sardine, carefully lifting it out. Cut away the spine at the tail. Use scissors to cut out the dorsal fin. Spread the sardines open and blot them with paper towels.

Open and drain the can of algae salad. Place a small mound of it in the center of each sardine. Fold the sardine over on itself to enclose the seaweed salad.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Season the sardines with salt. Place them on an oven sheet that has been lightly oiled.

Bake 2 minutes (raw in the center) or 5 minutes (done).

Open the can of shitakes and heat them in their juice.

Place 3 sardines on each plate. Divide the shitakes between them. Sprinkle with sesame seed and garnish with bean sprouts and cress.

Seaweed and Squid Noodles with Garlicky Ink Sauce
Tallarines de Alga con Tallarines de Calamares al Ajillo de Tinta

The chefs’ recipe for this dish calls for a Porto-Muiño product, a wheat linguine flavored with powdered nori. I didn’t have this specialty pasta, so I improvised, using half whole-wheat spaghetti and half sea spaghetti, the seaweed. I love this seaweed!

Squid ink adds extra flavor to this dish. You can use the ink sacs from fresh squid or, easier, frozen sachets of ink. Spoon the finished garlic-oil-ink sauce over the pasta. Don’t mix it, or it will blacken the noodles.

Serves 4.

1 ounce dried sea spaghetti
10 ounces whole squid, cleaned
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
1 small chile
4 packets frozen squid ink
2 tablespoons water
Salt
4 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
Chopped chives


Soak the sea spaghetti in salted water for 10 minutes. Cook it in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Cut squid into very thin "noodles."
Cut the body pouch of the squid open lengthwise. With a sharp knife, cut the squid lengthwise into very thin strips (1/8 inch wide). These are the squid “noodles.” Cover and refrigerate until ready to finish the dish.

Place ½ cup oil in a pan. Add the garlic and chile to the oil. Heat until garlic begins to fry and turns golden. Remove the pan from the heat and skim out the garlic and chile.

In a small bowl add the contents of the packets of ink to the water and stir to combine. Add the ink to the pan with the oil.

Cook the whole-wheat spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat remaining ¼ cup oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the squid and sauté just until it turns translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked wheat spaghetti and the reserved sea spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti with the squid. Season with salt.

Carefully reheat the garlic-oil-ink sauce.

Divide the squid and noodles between four plates. Spoon the garlic oil over them. Sprinkle the reserved fried garlic on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

Tasting notes from my kitchen: 
I'm sprinkling that powdered seaweed on everything--corn on the cob, scrambled eggs, salad with tuna, green beans. Love it. It's intensely salty, but seems to enhance other flavors.

The only gripe I have about seaweeds is that they are drab brown, green, black in color. Can't really use it "straight" in place of mayo in the potato salad, because it would turn the potatoes grey.

I turned the leftover seaweed tartare into a sort of tapenade, by adding garlic, salt-cured anchovies and capers to the blend. Great as a dip or spread on toasts.

Sea spaghetti is going to be my new favorite no-carb dish! I was getting bored with zucchini noodles anyway. And that fried garlic sauce--just skip the ink--is so delicious.

Gatherers use a mesh bag to collect seaweed. "You just put on a wet suit and goggles and get in there." (Photo by Ben Searl.)  

More recipes with seaweed:
 More information about Porto-Muiños products and on-line ordering at http://portomuinos.com/
 


5 comments:

  1. Here in South Wales we have laverbread.I remember in the 1950s the "Cockle Women",going door to door selling cockles and laverbread from baskets they carried.Then fried bacon,laverbread and cockles for a late breakfast.

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    1. vrj: I've heard of laver bread, but never tasted it. Cockles, laver and bacon sounds like a fine breakfast! Can you still get laver bread? My only use of seaweed before now was nori for sushi and kombu for Japanese soup.

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    2. Yes you can still get it.In Swansea market there are a number of stalls selling it together with cooked and live cockles.It is used a lot locally and also appears on the menus of upmarket restaurants.

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  2. Very interesting Janet! And the pictures are so nice. Have been working toward a plant based diet and this gives one many ideas. Thanks

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    1. Patty: Galicia pictures are by Benjamin. Glad you like the ideas.

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