Vegetables pushed proteins to the side—and almost completely off the plate at the 2016 StarChefs International Chef Congress (ICC) (www.starchefs.com/cook/icc). With consumer demand for clean eating, antioxidant-rich meals, and growth of the farm to table movement, chefs are embracing “root to stem” dining, creating seasonal menus with farm fresh ingredients used in their entirety.
One veggie “swimming” in praise (pardon the pun) is seaweed. The sea vegetable—available in several varieties—is not just for Asian cuisine anymore. And it’s making its way into both savory and sweet categories. While discussing the trend during her kick-off presentation at the event, Antoinette Bruno, Editor-in-Chief of StarChefs, named more than a few chefs working with the ‘weed— San Francisco Chef Jeremy Wayne of La Folie who makes seaweed chicharrones, Miami Pastry Chef Jill Montinola of Seaspice who tops a chocolate and toasted rice dessert with “seaweed snow,” and Sarah Welch of Republic Tavern in Detroit who likes seaweed with her strawberries.
It’s no wonder why seaweed use is picking up—depending on the variety, it can be rich in flavor, or more on the milder side. Many varieties contain a broad spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals, and are a great source of iodine. The mucilaginous quality found in some types also serves as a great aid in various cooking techniques (more about that in a minute).
Both Thomas Lents of Chicago’s Sixteen and Hari Cameron of a (MUSE.) in Rehoboth, DE are two chefs riding the seaweed wave. Both referred to its depth and textures. Lents likes that it’s a nice mixture of land of sea while Cameron praises its nutritional value.
“Seaweed is very versatile,” adds Shane Devereux of Atlanta’s Monday Nights at DD. “The natural salt or umami lends itself to new flavors into dishes. Flavors can be subtle as you need or as potent as needed.”
But perhaps the sea vegetable’s biggest champion is Chef Ivan Dominguez of Restaurante Alborada in A Coruña, Spain who gave a seaweed demonstration at ICC’s Day Two. “Many Mediterranean restaurants are using seaweed, but I am at the forefront,” he told attendees. The chef, who uses his restaurant as a vehicle to celebrate all of the flavors from his terroir, uses over 20 different varieties of seaweed from the Atlantic Ocean in his kitchen.
Working with seaweed, Dominguez learned, is a slippery process. He tested the varieties in his kitchen to see how each would affect cooking and taste. “Some seaweeds have a much longer cooking process,” he says. “Some don’t have a lot of flavor. Some I just use for texture. Others—like one he referred to as “beach banana”—add complexity to a dish.
During his cooking demonstration on the main stage, Dominguez showcased two ways to use seaweed in a fish dish—one focused on flavor and, in the other, seaweed served as a cooking aid. “When the quality of your ingredients is at this level, you want to keep it at this level, especially when it comes to fish,” he says. “Seaweed, sea water… It helps with that.”
One of the first things that made it to the mock kitchen—a container of juiced seaweed, which he added to eggs to whip into a meringue. This meringue was placed on the bottom of a copper pan, and fresh sea scallops were placed atop. “The meringue keeps the scallop from direct contact with the pan,” he says as he placed more seaweed over the scallop. “This [layer of] seaweed on top keeps the heat in so the scallop can slow cook to perfection.”
Once fully cooked, the scallops were finished with emulsified seaweed. “I highlight the terroir with the best of ingredients, and there’s a balance. [In this dish,] there’s is a balance of the saltiness of the seaweed and the sweetness of the scallop.”