Sea Lettuce

There is a stall in the market in my neighborhood of Madrid, Spain selling exclusively seaweed products. Among the products the attendant showed me when I passed by last month was salted seaweed leaves, wet and shiny and overflowing in their Styrofoam box. The box had traveled from Brittany, France. Though along Spainsh coasts you can find seaweed to eat, the woman explained she was hoping to specialize in seaweed from France.

Ulva lactucaI’d known the shores of Brittany to provide a seabed of entrees, such as oysters, clams, and shrimp. But seaweed? One of our family friends living there semi-jokingly claims that if seaweed were made to be edible, it would have a solid presence in Breton cuisine. But it doesn’t.

A few weeks after my visit to the Madrid market, as luck would have it, I was on the shores of southern Brittany and with a coastline of seaweed at my culinary disposal. Along this coast you can find a seaweed which is classified as edible by the association Ocealg. Scouring magazines and cookbooks from my French grandmother’s kitchen, I did find recipes for seaweed found in Brittany. My mother also remembers her grandmother using seaweed to thicken milk pudding. But it’s true that seaweed recipes do not have a strong presence here.


Seaweed picking

Foraging

The slippery green, brown and red leaves full of vitamins enticed me, so I took out my scissors and waded into the low tide. We’d read a recommendation online to only gather seaweed that is attached to rocks rather than that floating, o make sure it was fresh. Having trouble finding most of the types listed on Brittany seaweed websites, we stuck to ulva lactuca, or simply sea lettuce, which we found in great abundance.

At home, we cleaned the leaves in fresh water and dried them on a tray in the sun. We tasted the seaweed, and found (surprise!) it had a very marine taste. We made seaweed chips by salting and oiling the leaves and crisping them up in the oven. I paraded my invented hors d’oeuvre through the house, but there were few takers. In a final, sacrilegious attempt, we ended our trials with seaweed galettes, altering a truly Breton dish. There was only one taker.

Galettes aux algues

Cooking seaweed galettes

The seaweed snacks were mostly met with hesitation and doubt. In a region so thriving with seaweed, what would it take for seaweed dishes to be the norm? Perhaps a bit more experimenting, or scrupulous recipe
researching and following? I clearly had little idea what I was doing this week in the kitchen. But the food was at our doorsteps. We were being local foragers. I had to try! Upon return to Madrid I will take a few steps back, visit that lady in the market stall, and ask for some recipes. 

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