Knowing how to cook with seaweed isn’t obvious to everyone. So Mara’s co-founder and author of The Seaweed Cookbook, Xa Milne, came up with these four food hacks.
Cooking with seaweed
Seaweeds have different taste notes, just like other food groups. Some are salty, some sweet, some herby or smoky. Cooking with seaweed is an easy way to give meals a nutritional boost without losing flavour. Seaweed can be used as a natural flavour enhancer and preservative as well as delivering a nutrition bomb.
Xa tells us, “my sister in law told me that when she was on holiday in the Hebrides she used seaweed flakes instead of garlic, and that it had the same wondrous effect on the end result. It gave her food flavour and definition and she reckoned it was a really good substitute (and entirely fitting, in terms of her location).”
The first - and perhaps the most obvious - substitution is salt. Seaweed has roughly a seventh of the sodium of seaweed as well as providing potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and iodine. A tub of Mara’s Kombu and Dulse by the cooker means that you can spoon seaweed into soups, stews, dips and marinades without reaching for the salt cellar.
A handy seaweed shaker on the table means you can add more flavour in a healthier way, as seaweed delivers the same salty punch and much more besides. Particular favourite dishes that benefit from a generous scattering of seaweed are oven baked chips or root veggies; avocados, sweet tomatoes, crispy kale and cream cheese on oatcakes.
Both regular dulse and Mara’s award-winning Applewood Smoked Dulse, with its smouldering bacon-like notes, make a good alternative to paprika or smoked paprika. There is a sweetness and a mildness in dulse which lets you substitute one for the other. Michelin-starred chefs have compared the dried salty flakes to “piment d’espelette,” a very special smoky pepper which comes from the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The taste is quite gentle and it lends itself well to Basque cooking.
Dulse can add depth of flavour to roasts, especially beef and lamb, and also works well with salmon, stews, tomato pastes and rubs.
Shony, Mara’s special blend of four different types of seaweed, is a perfectly balanced combination of mild’n’wild sea flavours. Try using Shony in place of aromatic Mediterranean herbs like thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary - or try combining the two.
The green seaweed in Shony gives a little of the sweetness crossed with a slight bitterness of herbs like oregano, which adds a lovely twist to meat and fish recipes. Try scattered seaweed over creamy scrambled eggs or add it to the ooze of a poached egg, stirred through a hollandaise or added to a mayonnaise dip.
Kombu is a robust seaweed which makes a great replacement for stock or bouillon which, laden as it is with salt, we should all be quite happy to put to one side. For chef Heston Blumenthal, kombu is his number one secret weapon to an unbeatable chicken stock.
When you chop chicken or pork to put in a stir fry, cover the meat in a kombu rub or liberally scatter it in the pan, knowing it has a wonderful flavour enhancing ability. If you had no herbs or spices, this would lend great flavour to your dish. (Why not take a tin on a camping trip?)
Use kombu as the building block ingredient of a risotto, with mushrooms, or asparagus, or putting prawns into a stir fry, or even making a clear vegetable broth. It also adds a little bit of punch to a fish pie, scattered over the fresh fish before poaching, or use it to take a spaghetti vongole up to the next level.
Once you’re confident cooking with seaweed, feel free to experiment with your own substitutes. We’d love to hear your ideas!