Laver Seaweed – Edibility, Identification, Distribution

Porphyra spp. aka. Nori, Slake 

Related pages:

Laver, seaweed, porphyra, laverbread, foraging, wild food, nori

  • Identification – 5/5 – Easily recognised: deep brown/green/purple sheets, looking like stranded black bin bags
  • Edibility – 4/5 – A great ingredient and important member any wild food larder, though not something to eat on its own
  • Habitat – Clinging to exposed rocks on open beaches, from about three quarters of the  way down the tidal range. Also on groins, piers and harbour walls.
Seaweed distribution by tidal range Click image to enlarge © GallowayWildFoods.com

Seaweed distribution by tidal range
Click image to enlarge
© GallowayWildFoods.com

  • Distribution – 3/5 – UK-wide but occasional and a little picky about where it will grow
  • Season – November – May
  • How to harvest – Mindfully harvested by cutting (never pulling) up to 2/3rds of the growing sheets, leaving plenty connected to the rock, and never clearing a whole rock or area. Don’t be put off if it clings to the rocks in dry mats – it soon rehydrates. Gathered on a receding tide it will be easier to clean.
  • How to eat – Thouroughly wash then simmer for 6 hours then use: As an enricher of soups, stews etc; As a rich textural addition to pies, tarts etc; Mixed with oatmeal and fried as patties to make laverbread; Dried and powdered to make a rich stock base or seasoning; the drained cooking liquor makes a thick, umami-rich stock.

Laver has no great flavour of its own, but imparts a rich, savoury, umami quality to anything it is added to. I have not found a single savoury dish that can’t be improved by its addition and it is a cornerstone of my wild larder.

Once harvested, rinse it thoroughly then simmer (adding a little water where necessary) for about 6 hours, ensuring it doesn’t boil dry. Drain and squeeze out, reserving the liquid which is the richest, most umami and nutrient rich stock you could imagine. I then either spread the cooked laver on sillicon sheets, dry and powder to use as stock and flavour enhancer (mixed with powdered dried mushrooms, this becomes “instant dashi stock”) or keep in small tubs in the freezer to add to savoury stews and soups (it doesn’t keep very well unfrozen).

foraging, dashi, stock, mushrooms, seaweed, ceps, cauliflower fungus, orange birch bolete, gutweed, pepper dulse, laver

Insta-dashi stock before shaking. Made with dried, powdered ceps, cauliflower fungus, orange birch bolete, gutweed, pepper dulse and laver

Those of a geeky disposition will be interested to know that several species of porphyra are indigenous to UK waters, all of them edible and of more or less similar culinary merits. Even marine biologists struggle to distinguish between them, with habitat and gestalt being the best clues. You are most likely to encounter Tough Laver (p. umbilicatis) or winter laver (p. linearis) which is quite translucent. Another variety, Pale Patch Laver (p. leucosticta) can be found clinging epiphitically to pip weed and serrated wrack.

Another species of laver  – p. yezwensis – is most usually encountered in the UK wrapped around sushi and labelled by its Japanese moniker, nori. This variety does not grow around the UK, but is farmed and harvested commercially in vast quantities around Japan. I have made several, admittedly half-hearted,  attempts to make nori sheets from our indigenous porphyra species to serve around my wild sushi. The most successful efforts came out more like fish-net tights than anything that might hold rice. I’ve given up, but I have seen some respectable efforts from my friend Monica Wilde (who has rather more of an eye for detail than me). Hers came out like dark, brittle cardboard, great for breaking up and serving tit-bits on, but never likely to embrace anything.

Wild sushi, bought nori

Wild sushi, bought nori

To make laverbread, the Welsh favourite, blitz then mix the cooked, wet laver with pinhead oatmeal until it becomes thick enough to roughly mould into patties (unusually for seaweed, you may wish to add some seasoning). Fry them in bacon fat or butter and serve. I like them with smoked fish and sea beet for brekky. Lovely and very filling.

Laverbread with smoked cod, sea beet, bacon and sourdough. My dream brunch.

Laverbread with smoked cod, sea beet, bacon and sourdough. My dream brunch.

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