The traditional Welsh seaweed snack topped with asparagus and poached egg
The seaweed porphyra umbilicalis has a better-known relation, porphyra yezoensis, which when dried and toasted is wrapped around sushi and goes by the name of nori. Umbilicalis has been prepared in the West Country and Wales for centuries, where it is harvested from the sea, boiled and sold as laverbread.
The increase in popularity of Japanese food and our consequent familiarisation with the taste of seaweed has now created scope for a wider enjoyment of native seaweeds. You can buy laverbread in tins from specialist stores or, if you are in South Wales, the wonderful Swansea or Carmarthen markets have stalls specialising in cockles and laverbread rolled in oats.
The classic approach is to roll laverbread in oatmeal and cook it with Welsh bacon in the same pan. Here’s my version of this.
1 banana shallot, peeled and very finely chopped
4 rashers of fine-cut, smoked, dry-cured bacon, finely chopped
A small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
100g porridge oats
2-3 stems of asparagus per person, tough ends removed
1 egg per person
Take half the butter and melt it in a non-stick pan. Add the shallots and soften, turning constantly for 2-3 mins. Add the chopped bacon and continue to stir until the bacon releases its fat, and the shallots and bacon become a little crispy. Finally, toss in the parsley and stir around until the leaves relax and become darkly green and soft. This will only take 1 min or so.
Mix the laverbread, oats and the shallot/bacon/parsley mixture together and form them with your fingers into 6 or so loose cakes. There is no need to season them with salt, as the sea has already done the job, but add a turn or 2 of black pepper.
Use the same pan to fry up your laver cakes. Melt the rest of the butter and when it’s good and warm, brown the cakes on each side for 3 mins or so. They should be toasty on each side. Keep the cakes warm while you cook the asparagus and the eggs. Fill a wide saucepan with 2″ of salted water and bring to the boil. Put in the asparagus spears and, a few secs later, find a space of clear water to slip in the eggs for poaching.
Cook gently for 2-3 mins, then delicately remove from the water using a slotted spoon. Make sure you have wiggled the spoon enough to drain off all the water, then arrange the eggs and asparagus over the laver cakes.
Recipe: Jessica Seaton