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Why Do We Need to Compare Dulse, a Sea Vegetable to Bacon That Comes From a Pig?

20/07/2015 12:03 BST | Updated 17/07/2016 10:59 BST

Some of us who have been cooking with wild seaweed long before it reached its dizzy, new found celebrity status, may think that dulse tastes like bacon but others will disagree. If pushed I'm in the bacon'ish' camp but I'm not overly keen to compare the two. However, as I'm a lazy cook I'll add that when I cook with dulse I don't miss washing the grill tray or for the less healthy, the frying pan. Older Irish readers will remember snacking on dulse as a child. Both Euell Gibbons and Rachel Carson credit immigrant Irish with the post war sale of dulse on American street corners.

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Dulse growing on Kelp

As a forager of wild seaweed I've become increasingly concerned by the surge in the number of commercial seaweed harvesters. The growth in these artisan businesses is down to the simple law of supply and demand - if a trend setting chef wants seaweed on his menu, other chefs and cooks will follow. Commercial seaweed foragers in the UK need permission from The Crown Estate but I can't help but think that it must be very difficult to oversee whether or not the harvesters are picking sustainably. I readily admits to picking the odd holdfast (think root) of pepper dulse because its fernlike frond is so tiny. In cold weather when I don gloves, sustainable picking of this species is neigh on impossible. Fortunately, those of us who pick seaweed for our own supper table and not the world's, can sleep with a clear conscience.

I was interested to read that Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent dulse. It is said to grow extraordinarily quickly and they say it is packed full of protein. Farmed seaweed is also being trailed on Loch Fyne in Scotland. This has to be to be excellent news for the landlocked who worry about sustainability but still want to purchase seaweed.

Dulse is one of my favourite seaweeds to cook with. Unlike pepper dulse and carrageen it doesn't harbour lots of tiny, wee snails (which kind folk will pop in a bucket and return to the seashore), nor does the washing process fill the kitchen sink with sand (this can be an issue when washing laver). The best news however, is that dulse cooks relatively quickly. Throw it in when boiling potatoes and it will cook in much the same time. Get the children to watch as you throw the chopped dulse into boiling water because it will change colour from red to green. Lots of seaweeds are kitchen chameleons. Interestingly most of the seaweeds in the world are red not green, although some such as sugar kelp do have a tendency to be slimy unless you cook them pronto. Sugar kelp when cooked will change colour from brown to green, and when cooked, it isn't slimy.

I suggest in my new book Seaweed in the Kitchen that its superfood (the new kale) chat needs further evidence based research but that's not to say that seaweed may not tick that box in the future. I cook for taste not nutrient count and seaweed certainly gets my taste buds salivating. I cook with about ten species of seaweed on a regular basis and each seaweed tastes different. I of course, think that dulse, which is red and rarely slimy, tastes like dulse.

SUGAR KELP AND GAMMON SCRATCHINGS

Even if you ensure that most of the fat is removed from the gammon, this won't make this a very healthy snack but the sugar kelp definitely adds umami.

Makes a small bowl (depending on the size of the rind)

Marine algae: 4 pieces fresh sugar kelp, slightly larger than the rind and as dry as possible.

Additional ingredients

Gammon rind

Set the oven to 180C Gas 4.

Scrap excess fat from the gammon rind and then put two pieces of sugar kelp underneath the rind and two on top. Wrap the sugar kelp encased rind tightly in baking paper and then in foil. Put the package on a baking tray and cook in a pre heated oven for 1-1 1⁄2 hours until the gammon is golden and crispy. Remove the foil and paper and allow the scratchings to cool before breaking into bite sized pieces.