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The Truffle of the Sea - Pepper Dulse

10/11/2014 14:18 GMT | Updated 10/01/2015 10:59 GMT

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Pepper Dulse

I'll hazard a guess that Pepper Dulse, a ruby red seaweed with branching fern-like fronds was a favourite with Victorian ladies who added seaweed to their 'fern-mania' collections. It's strong in flavour, and when dried and finely ground is one of my stalwart store cupboard ingredients. I use it as you would a spice, a sprinkle here and there. I've even added it to Christmas mincemeat. Yesterday I added a couple of handfuls of fresh pepper dulse to a Hebridean lamb casserole. Some say that it tastes of garlic, I'm tempted to agree. Once you are over the umami wow factor, each species of seaweed deserves to be judged on its own merit. As with other seaweeds the dried product is concentrated, so less is more. Red seaweeds are water soluble, which means that pepper dulse makes a colourful as well as piquant stock.

Pepper dulse varies in colour from brown, through various shades of red to iridescent purple, as it glistens in the sun. It carpets rocks in the middle and lower shore. It is fiendishly tricky to cut because it is so small. Use nail scissors to cut the tiny fronds and do your best not to remove the hold fast with which it attaches itself to the rock. The flat ferns are delicate but their taste is strong. A little goes a long way. I often taste it as I am harvesting, in a grazing fashion. Pepper dulse certainly clears the airways.

Wash the pepper dulse well and then drain it through a colander to remove excess water. Next step is to lay it in on a tray in a warm place to dry. I don't recommend an airing cupboard because its unsubtle scent pervades during the drying process. Light dry and airy porches work well or use a dehydrator lined with baking parchment (The fronds are tiny and often, dehydrator trays have wide gaps). Once picked the fronds soften; it's best to dry them as quickly as possible.

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As the pepper dulse dries, run your fingers through the tiny fronds and remove any rock particles or tiny shells - some of my finding have been exquisite. Blend the dried pepper dulse fronds in a liquidiser and store the resulting powder in a dry airtight container. Pepper dulse is often called the truffle of the sea and it is fast becoming a favourite amongst chefs. It is available commercially from

The Cornish Seaweed Company (and Atlantic Seaweed)

Just Seaweed

and Mara Seaweed