Did you miss us? We had last week off while the blog went in for it’s WOF. But we’re back this week and good as new. So what have we been up to? Well believe it or not harvesting radiata without a chainsaw! Eklonia radiata, or common kelp, to be precise. It’s so good for you I’m sure it will be the new kale! Something has to be. I’m sick of kale.
But why are a lot of us so squeamy when it comes to harvesting native seaweed? Well if you’re from the pale faced tribe like me, chances are it wasn’t on the weekly menu. And it was called a weed back then, not a “sea vegetable” as it is now by those in the know. When I gathered it as a kid, it was trailer-full’s of the slimiest, smelliest bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) we could find, for digging in to the garden. Eating it was the last thing on our minds, although the honeycomb interior of the thick leathery leaves did make great pretend crumpets.
I’m from Kaikoura and it turns out that the deep, clean waters that run close to the rocky shore are home to some of the richest and tastiest varieties of seaweed found anywhere in the country. Eklonia radiata or butterfish kelp as we call it, grows in large forests anchored to rocky sea beds. It can grow very long fronds which get torn from it’s stalks in storms.
Just after a storm is the best time to find fresh butter fish kelp adrift in the shallows or washed ashore. You can tell it is fresh because it smells of the sea, not of rotten seaweed and it is shiny, firm and clean to the touch, not slimy and limp.
To dry it, first give it a good rinse in a lot of cold water and lay the strips out in a well ventilated space for a couple of days. I put mine in the soil sieve in the sunny porch. When it is crispy, slice it up with a sharp knife. It is surprisingly tough for such a fragile looking leaf. Stored away from the light, in a glass jar with an airtight lid it will keep for several months.
It has a nice peppery, mineral flavour which goes really well with fish and in chicken soups and casseroles. If you haven’t chopped it very finely then rehydrate it in water before adding to dishes as it is chewy. Have a dish of finely chopped dried kelp on the table for use as a salt replacement.
If you’re on a reduced salt diet you may not be getting as much iodine as you need and seaweed is high in iodine. Iodine keeps your thyroid functioning well which keeps your metabolism working and your weight balanced.
Seaweed is also very rich in many other minerals and proteins we need for good health and it is in a form our bodies find easy to absorb.
Seaweed has been part of Maori food culture for centuries. The knowledge of which varieties to gather, when and from where, as well as how to preserve and prepare it was known and passed down. Japanese food culture is the same, with extensive use of different seaweeds throughout their cuisine, not just nori sheets around the sushi and wakame in the miso, but loads of different seaweeds used in sweet and savoury dishes.
So now you know one of our edible native seaweed varieties, go pick some up next time you find yourself near the coast after a storm. If you’re interested we might blog about some other more seasonal varieties of “sea vegetables” in future.