Boasting complexity in taste and texture, edible seaweed is a superfood which has been eaten for many, many years.
Edible seaweed has excellent nutritional properties and takes the traditional palate to new dimensions. Chef and restaurateur Mike McEnearney predicts that seaweed is an upcoming culinary trend in Australia and hopes to demonstrate its many uses beyond the nori sheets used to wrap sushi.
"People are talking about sustainability, more and more...They are realising that [seaweed] is the new source of food, the forest underneath the sea," McEnearney says. "However, it hasn't come to market yet and I really hope it does because we should all be embracing it."
It's believed there are around 20,000 seaweed species, half of which are edible. It's said that Australia is home to many hundreds of them. McEnearney loves the versatility of each variety and the intense flavours they lend to a dish.
"Seaweed offers that real intense MSG sort of flavour," he says. "It's high in glutamate, so you get that umami taste coming through, particularly with the stronger ones like the larger kelps and kombu."
"They are realising that [seaweed] is the new source of food, the forest underneath the sea."
The first time McEnearney recalls using seaweed was during his apprenticeship at Rockpool restaurant in Sydney in the 1990s.
"We would burn the whiting fluids out, fill them with a prawn mousse, wrap them in nori and then deep fry them so they were almost like a deep-fried nori roll," he describes. "We served it with a beautiful vegetable sauce, and garnished it with this thin, crispy, waxy sort of textured seaweed called ogonori."
Curing a fillet of kingfish or ocean trout in kombu is McEnearney's favourite way to enjoy seaweed and he loves the natural salty seasoning it imparts. This dish has featured on the weekly specials at his canteen-style restaurant Kitchen by Mike in Sydney's CBD, where it's paired with a coconut and lime dressing or ponzu sauce.
"If you don't want to wrap fish in it, what you can do is put it in the belly of the whole fish with some lemon," he explains. "It's almost like adding a salty herb to your fish when you grill it and enhances that salty oily flavour."
For first timers, McEnearney suggests drying nori sheets in the sun until they crisp then shredding them into salads, soups and omelettes. Nori can also be toasted, ground into a powder and added to enhance the salty flavour and texture of different condiments, such as mayonnaise or butter. The team at Kitchen by Mike uses ground nori to make vegan tofu mayonnaise. It pairs perfectly with any fried food and even works in a sandwich, McEnearney's eggplant, prawn and seaweed sandwich.
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