Notes From a Forager: Making Seaweed Pickles
Why make seaweed pickles? It's a good question. There are so many easier things to pickle, and some that, I have to admit, do taste better. I like beet pickles way more than seaweed. Kohlrabi, dilly beans, corn, radish, grapes ... I'd even say pickled turnips are better than seaweed (though not cauliflower; pickled cauliflower always just tastes like raw veggie with vinegar, for some reason it's never quite right).
All these pickles, however, are delicious in a common way, they don't remind me of anything. They don't take me anywhere except to the flavors in front of me. Are they good, are they bad? That's all there is to consider.
Pickled seaweed, if done right, transports you to the sea. It takes you on a drive up Highway One, the kind of drive where you pull over above the cliffs every ten minutes because it's just too amazingly beautiful not to. It takes you to the first time you went surfing, or on a family vacation to the coast. Seaweed doesn't taste like a vegetable, it tastes like the sea. Somehow the distilled essence of ocean and sand and sand castles and abalone diving and whisky passed around late-night campfires on beaches on the Lost Coast. That's why I make seaweed pickles, and you should too.
These pickles are both made with bullwhip kelp, my favorite seaweed to pickle. It's common around these parts, and as if you needed another reason to eat it, seaweeds provide many trace minerals you don't get much anywhere else. At my Wild Kitchen dinners, I always say it looks like a bullwhip, but I'm honestly always thinking that it actually looks more like a beached sperm. You can find bullwhip kelp on the beach after storms (the way to tell if it's fresh is to bend it -- if it snaps cleanly, its fresh, if it bends, toss it). The more fun way to get it fresh is to dive and cut it yourself. I usually grab some whenever I'm abalone diving. I keep this recipe simple to let the briny seaweed flavor shine through.
- Kelp: Fresh and about 4 feet long, at least 2 inches in diameter.
- 4 cups Champagne or white wine vinegar
- ½ cups sugar
- 8 cups water (would be cool to try this with seawater, but I never have. If you try it, let me know how it turns out)
- Medium pot
- 2 containers for the pickles to live in
1. First get your brine a boilin'. Mix the above ingredients, and bring to a boil. While that's going, start on the seaweed. Give it a good rinse in cold water, cut off and reserve the stipes (the feathery top part), then start to peel the blad. I always feel a bit weird saying this, but peeling kelp is one of the most satisfying things I know. You get these long, uninterrupted peels....you gotta try it (this of course coming from a guy who finds cleaning squid satisfyingly meditative, so take it how you will).
2. Cut the blade (long part) and the bulb (top part) in quarter inch rings.
3. Put the reserved stipes and seaweed rings (which are just the coolest gem like things you've ever seen, they almost seem man-made), in separate containers. Pour over hot pickling liquid. Done! Easy!
4. Let them cool then into the fridge. I've used these two days after I've made them, and eaten them at three months old without ill effect.
We most often put this on our "Seaside Charcuterie" platter (with a rotating cast of black cod brandade, pickled wild mussels, pickled mustard seeds, pickled herring, fried smelt....), but they're good served with fish, etc. Pickling the stipes is a pretty new discovery for us (we've been using the blade for a few years), but they are amazingly good, subtle sea flavor, great texture. The blade has a more robust texture.
Enjoy, and I hope if you don't dive for these, you'll at least get your feet wet when collecting.