Porphyra spp. aka. Nori, Slake (A number of different porphyra species are common and used in similar ways – see below for more info)
- Identification – 5/5 – Easily recognised: deep brown/green/purple sheets, looking like stranded black bin bags when the tide is out. See below for notes on different species.
- Edibility – 4/5 – A great ingredient and important member any wild food larder
- Habitat – Clinging to exposed rocks on open beaches, from about three quarters of the way down the tidal range. Also on groins, piers and harbour walls.
- Distribution – 3/5 – UK-wide but occasional and a little picky about where it will grow
- Season – November – May
- How to harvest – Mindfully harvested by cutting (never pulling) up to 2/3rds of the growing sheets, leaving plenty connected to the rock, and never clearing a whole rock or area. Don’t be put off if it clings to the rocks in dry mats – it soon rehydrates. Gathered on a receding tide it will be easier to clean.
- How to eat – Dried, toasted and crumbled as a seasoning for rice, salads, stir-fries etc and in stock powders; Or cooked, as an enricher of soups, stews etc; As a rich textural addition to pies, tarts etc; Mixed with oatmeal and fried as patties to make laverbread; the drained cooking liquor makes a thick, umami-rich stock.
Laver has no great flavour if you eat it raw, but once processed, imparts a rich, savoury, umami quality to anything it is added to. I have not found a single savoury dish that can’t be improved by its addition and it is a cornerstone of my wild larder.
Its goes chewy and awkward to use when you simply dry it, but a little toasting in the oven or in a dry frying pan works magic, bringing out the deeply savoury nori flavour you will be familiar with in Japanese cuisine and seaweed snacks.
Ground to a fine powder, dried, toasted laver is one of the most useful additions to any forager’s wild pantry, imparting rich umami to anything it is sprinkled on, or added to shortcrust pastry or sourdough bread. Paired with dried cep powder, it becomes a supercharged savoury weapon of mass deliciousness, and enhances any savoury dish to which it is added.
To use it cooked, from fresh, rinse it thoroughly then simmer (adding a little water where necessary) for about 6 hours, ensuring it doesn’t boil dry. Drain and squeeze out, reserving the liquid which is the richest, most umami and nutrient rich stock you could imagine. Reduce the stock down further once you’ve removed the seaweed to make a concentrate and freeze in ice cube trays for throwing into sauces or making a glaze for meat. Keep the cooked laver in small tubs in the freezer (it doesn’t keep very well unfrozen) and add to savoury stews, soups, tarts, patés and pies.
To make laverbread, the Welsh favourite, blitz then mix the cooked, strained, wet laver with pinhead oatmeal until it becomes thick enough to roughly mould into patties (unusually for seaweed, you may wish to add some seasoning – I add pepper dulse and sun-dried white sea lettuce). Fry them in bacon fat or butter and serve. I like them with smoked fish and sea beet for brekky. Lovely and very filling.
Those of a geeky disposition will be interested to know that several species of porphyra are indigenous to UK waters, all of them edible and of more or less similar culinary merits. Even marine biologists struggle to distinguish between them, with habitat and gestalt being the best clues. You are most likely to encounter Tough Laver (p. umbilicatis) or winter laver (p. linearis) which is quite translucent. Another variety, Pale Patch Laver (p. leucosticta) can be found clinging epiphitically to pip weed and serrated wrack.
Another species of laver – p. yezwensis – is most usually encountered in the UK wrapped around sushi and labelled by its Japanese moniker, nori. This variety does not grow around the UK, but is farmed and harvested commercially in vast quantities around Japan. I have made several, admittedly half-hearted, attempts to make nori sheets from our indigenous porphyra species to serve around my wild sushi. The most successful efforts came out more like fish-net tights than anything that might hold rice. I’ve given up, but I have seen some respectable efforts from my friend Monica Wilde (who has rather more of an eye for detail than me). Hers came out like dark, brittle cardboard, great for breaking up and serving tit-bits on, but never likely to embrace anything. The undisputed master of sushi paper making (and all sorts of wild paper making) in the UK is Fergus Drennan – he runs courses in it down in Cornwall.
- Introduction to seaweed foraging
- Mile High Wild Pie Recipe (using laver)
- Wild Sushi
- How to make wild sushi rolls
- Seaweed foraging guide
- Fungi guide