The renaissance of Northern Ireland’s forgotten ‘seafood’

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For more than 1,000 years, a rare reddish-purple seaweed known as dulse has fed coastal communities in Northern Ireland. Now, it’s making waves as a trendy superfood.

While dulse (which comes from the Gaelic duileasg) grows in cold-water pockets of the North Atlantic and Pacific from Canada to Scotland, “it’s as Irish as potatoes,” according to chef, writer and director of Slow Food Northern Ireland, Paula McIntyre.

In the last few years, a wave of chefs and artisans has caused something of a seaweed renaissance throughout Ireland. Today, you’ll find bags of dulse for sale at Belfast’s iconic St George’s Market; some of the UK’s finest restaurants have started serving it; and supermarkets, sweet shops, post offices and pubs from County Clare to County Antrim stock raw dulse leaves that fly off the shelves each summer.

The world has taken notice, too. ABC News called dulse ‘the holy grail of seafood’, The New Yorker claimed ‘seaweed could be a miracle food’ and Jamie Oliver said it was ‘the most nutritious vegetable in the world’ after eating it helped him lose two stone.

“By itself, raw dulse can overpower you, but milled and mixed, it gives butter a lovely, natural saltiness,” Allison said. “It’s just something we tried that took off for us,” Will added, spreading dulse butter on a warm scone. “I never got to meet royalty when I was just herding sheep.”

“When you eat it raw, it can taste like you’re chewing the ocean,” he said. “Fresh dulse is actually quite sweet, but the longer you age it, the saltier it gets. Yet, when you pan-fry it, it has a really interesting, nutty, smoky flavour – almost like bacon.”

Fearon has recently started incorporating dulse into a dish of maple-cured salmon with Bushmills whiskey, and he says it’s one of the most popular items on the menu. “Ever since the idea of [New] Nordic cuisine began emerging where you use everything from the sea, dulse has really made a comeback here.” Fearon said. “People associate it with their childhood.”

People think of seaweed and think of washed up, stinking stuff on the beach. But these sea vegetables often have more iron, magnesium, potassium and minerals [that] your body needs than land vegetables like carrots and potatoes,” Thompson said.

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