Mark Hix is all in a lather over laver, the Welsh answer to sushi
Welsh food doesn’t get as much of a look in as the other Celtic cuisines from Scotland and Ireland. They do have some great produce, of course, the most common being lamb, although the Welsh are always keen to shout about their amazing cheese, shellfish and laverbread.
Yes, laverbread is a Welsh dish and no, it’s not actually bread – it’s seaweed. This may well put some people off, but it’s delicious. There are a lot of small artisanal producers like Selwyn’s in Swansea who have laverbread boiling away in their backyards and sell it on local markets.
I’ve had the laver conversation many, many times and some people still turn their noses up at it. Most of these people are sushi lovers too, and don’t realise that laver is exactly the same thing. Even my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter takes cut up pieces of sushi laver to school as a snack!
I think we’re going to see a big rise in commercial seaweed production as the taste, health and nutritional qualities are second to none. I reckon seaweed will eventually replace the kale and quinoa fad, and will soon become the ingredient of choice in your Nutribullet.
I’m noticing a lot of producers cropping up across the country, like Tony Coulston’s Ebb Tides in Devon. And just like Wales, Ireland has plenty, with Carrageen moss is used extensively across the country as a natural setting agent in puddings.
A couple of years ago I was even given a seaweed bath-bag by Clodagh McKenna, which relaxed me no end – there’s more to seaweed than meets the eye. We’ve been running a St David’s menu at HIX Soho and the Oyster and Chop House, which will continue until 9 March, where you can get some of that delicious laverbread. Or here’s how to use it yourself.
Laver Risotto recipe
- If you can’t find or forage fresh seaweed then the dried seaweed salad you find in Asian supermarkets makes a good alternative.
- 4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- 60ml olive oil
- 400g spelt, soaked in cold water for a couple hours
- 1ltr hot vegetable stock (or make your own stock from konbu)
- 80g butter
- 150-160g edible seaweed (sea lettuce, Dulce, sea beans etc), blanched in boiling water for one minute and roughly chopped
- Gently cook the shallots for a few minutes in the rapeseed oil until soft.
- Add the drained spelt and stir it well with a wooden spoon.
- Gradually add the hot stock a little at a time, stirring constantly and ensuring that each addition has been fully absorbed by the spelt before adding the next.
- After 10 minutes and the rice is half cooked the rice add the seaweed, and keep adding stock until the spelt is just cooked and plump: the risotto should be quite moist.
- Then add the butter and Correct the seasoning if necessary and serve immediately.