I’m a freelance writer and have been commissioned to write a short article about coastal foraging in Wales and I wondered whether you’d be able to answer a couple of questions by email, which I may be able to use as direct quotes within my article? My questions are:
- What are the best foods to forage for on the coast, for those who are new to foraging?
- What tips would you give first time coastal foragers?
- For those foraging for seaweed, what’s the best way to eat it? Raw? Cooked? If cooked, how long should it be cooked for and how?
1. What are the best foods to forage for on the coast, for those who are new to foraging?
Seaweeds of course! Japweed/Wireweed (Sargassum muticum), Carragheen (Chondrus crispus), Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta), Gut Weeds – filamentous and tubular species of (Ulva), Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis as well as other Porphyra species), Tangle/Oarweed (Laminaria digitata), Thong Weed (Himanthalia elongata), Wracks (Fucus species), Egg Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum), Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca), Grape Pip Weed Mastocarpus stellatus/Gigartina stellata and Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida) are just a few of the really good and easily identifiable seaweeds. Vascular plant-wise, Sea Beet, Sea Purslane, Alexanders and Rock Samphire are all delicious and easy to identify. Shell fish such as oysters, mussels and razor clams are also wonderful.
2. What tips would you give first time coastal foragers?
Consult with the land owner regarding the legality of foraging. Much of the Welsh coastline is national park territory. Familiarise yourself with rare and protected plant species– just because one may grow prolifically in your area doesn’t mean it isn’t under threat. Learn to harvest sustainably. Taking just one example, sea kale – a cabbage-like plant of shingle beaches, is absolutely delicious whilst young. The tender leaves and unopened broccoli-like flower heads make superb eating. Each plant will usually produce 2-5 or more flowering stems. If you pick all of these from one plant it won’t be able to produce seed and, hence, new plants. Foraging with respect, common sense and self-restrain is the best way to proceed. It’s also important not to view all wild foods purely in terms of their potential utility as human food. Make a point of learning about the other insects and animal species that form a web of dependency with individual plants. It’s a fascinating subject.
Get a good guide book. If the superb quality of John Wright’s mushroom book is anything to go by, his Edible Seashore: River Cottage Handbook No.5 will be just as brilliant.
Ask local water authorities, environment agencies and other relevant authorities about the local water quality. This is especially important if you want to eat seaweeds and shellfish on a regular basis. Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious because they absorb and concentrate nutrients direct from the surrounding water. Nevertheless it is that same ability to absorb nutrients that can result in them absorbing pollutants.
As a general rule only collect vibrant living seaweeds that are attached to rocks. Don’t ever harvest from the strand line. But, if you miss the low tide, strandlines can be an excellent place to identify individual seaweeds and thus get a good idea of a beach’s seaweed potential.
3. For those foraging for seaweed, what’s the best way to eat it? Raw? Cooked? If cooked, how long should it be cooked for and how?
Although some are too small to bother with, whilst others just taste plain disgusting, there are nevertheless over 650 different varieties of seaweed to be found around the British coast – all edible except a few that will give you a nasty stomach ache. Given such a huge variety, seaweed can’t be lumped together into a generic “it” as implied here. The fact is there are at least 650 different answers to this question or, considering that one could experiment with drying, frying, boiling and every other method of food preparation and cooking available to man and beast, the ‘how’ of cooking seaweed starts to present an almost infinite number of possibilities. Having said that, even on the most glorious of summer days – generally the best time for collecting many seaweeds, you should ALWAYS resist the temptation to eat any of it raw straight from the sea – no matter how clean the water. If you do, the resulting diahoerea is likely to put you off seaweeds for life. Nevertheless, taking just two examples, Dulse is delicious eaten raw if it’s sun dried to a still pliable consistency first. Serrated or Toothed Wrack is excellent dried to a crisp then broken up into small pieces and eaten like crisps. As for cooking, the best method will depend on the individual seaweed’s initial colour, texture, flavour and consistency. The delicious laver of Welsh laver bread fame takes hours to cook if, indeed, tasty laver bread is what you’re after. Then again, as a base for soup, laver is fantastic. In this regard it only needs to be cut into varying sized pieces and boiled for about 30 mins. Into the resulting seaweed stock one could add further finely shredded seaweeds to be cooked a little longer or one could add oysters, razor clams, Jelly Ear Fungus or anything else for that matter. Both laver and the vibrant green, but in other respects similar, sea lettuce are superb for wrapping fennel stuffed fish. This fish can then be shallow fried or, better still, cooked in a sand, shingle or earth oven. However, given the variable cooking times for different seaweeds, for those coming to it for the first time I recommend deep frying in a wok of smoking hot oil on an open fire. Dangerous! Fun! Delicious! All seaweeds can be cooked to a crisp this way in between 3-15 seconds.
Remember too that some seaweed species are rare and protected.