Seaweed Experiments: Laverbread

On Tuesday, my search for a delicious and interesting seaweed recipe took me to Wales, the land of Extreme Sheep Herding (Seriously, go watch this video if you haven’t seen it—you’ll thank me.) It turns out that there is a traditional Welsh delicacy called laverbread. In fact, it is so beloved that it’s been dubbed “Welshman’s Caviar”. It also turns out that laverbread isn’t bread at all, but rather a thick paste made from laver seaweed, the same seaweed that the nori wrapping your sushi is made from. All of this sounded really fascinating, so I resolved to try and make some.

Making laverbread is pretty simple, but it takes a very long time. Basically, you put a whole bunch of freshly picked laver in a pot with a little bit of water, close the lid, and simmer it on low heat for a really, really long time, until the seaweed breaks down and turns into a dark green mush that looks a little bit like creamed spinach. I simmered mine for six hours! Then, you mix in some lemon juice, some salt and pepper and a little olive oil, and voila—laverbread!

Then came the fun part: eating this stuff! First, I tried a bit of it by itself. It’s a very distinctive flavor, kind of like eating concentrated ocean air. I can’t say I’ve ever had anything quite like it. It struck me as similar to Marmite—not in actual taste, but in the sense that it’s a very strong, distinctive flavor that’s possibly not for most people, but some people will absolutely love it. Next, I tried it on a piece of buttered toast. Not bad! The butter fat cut through some of that ocean flavor a bit, making for a pretty good combination.

And finally, I had to try it the traditional way: as part of a fry-up! The Full Welsh Breakfast is very similar to the Full English Breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, tomato, mushrooms, etc. all fried up) except it includes laverbread patties (laverbread mixed with oats and fried in bacon fat) and cockles. I didn’t have any cockles or black pudding or sausages handy so it wasn’t quite a Full Welsh Breakfast, but it was a reasonable facsimile:

That dark thing between the eggs and the mushrooms is the laverbread patty, and let me tell you, it was delicious! Sure, you might say, everything tastes good fried in bacon fat (and there is a lot of truth to that) but the laverbread imparted this satisfying ocean-y umami flavor that really worked well with the rest of the fry-up ingredients. Yum!

Now, a true Welshman reading this description would probably cry foul. For one thing, since making this dish, I have learned that you are actually supposed to roll the laverbread in oats before frying it (rather than mixing the oats into the laverbread), so the oats are on the outside of the patty. Oops! But hey—it was a good first attempt. Whatever this thing was that I made, whether it was proper laverbread or not, ended up being pretty darn tasty with the fry-up. So I’m calling this experiment a success!