Laverbread Day

Richard Burton was one of the most successful, famous and richest actors in the world – not least due to being married (twice!) to Elizabeth Taylor. They could afford private jets and every luxury that money could buy – including caviar.

Yet what Burton called “Welshman’s Caviar” was nothing to do with the sturgeon. What he meant was laverbread, a puree of Porphyra Umbilicalis – a seaweed common to much of the western coastlines of Wales and Ireland. Long beloved as a staple food (especially at breakfast) for the colliers of West Wales, it has been made in this part of Wales for centuries. And Sunday April 14 is National Laverbread day!

So what is this seaweed? If you’ve eaten sushi then you will have eaten this, but you’d know it perhaps under its Japanese name – nori. If you’re on a beach in West Wales this summer, look at the rocks around the middle of the tidal range. If they’re covered in a dark green, almost plastic like seaweed – then that’s the laver. It’s been described as dark green almost black cling film, or like a green plastic shopping bag. The frond is only one cell thick, and it’s these sheets that are washed (several times!) to remove any sand and then slow cooked. When softened, it’s pureed (I use a stick blender – not sure if that would work on the quantities shown here!) and was traditionally stored in earthenware pots.

Making laverbread. Copyright Selwyn’s Seafoods

If truth be told the initial impressions are, shall we say, challenging. It’s a dark green almost black gelatinous paste. The taste has also been described as “acquired” – which is perhaps a polite way of saying not very nice. I would disagree – to me a breakfast of bacon, sausage, egg, toast and laverbread is a perfect start to any day.

The actual way of cooking it is to just roll it in some oatmeal to form a patty, and then fry it in the frying pan. For sure, not a slimmer’s breakfast – which is why it was so popular with miners in the Llanelli and Swansea areas. My father worked at a mine north of Swansea where 20 of the miners came from Penclawdd (on Gower) where laverbread was made, and he would bring back a pound of it every Friday evening – there would seldom be any left come Monday morning!

There are other cooking options – so it can be spread on toast, put into soups and stews, and I’m sure there’s some way of mixing it into a pasta dish! With its umami characteristics it’s sure to add depth to any range of dishes.

And this could be one of the emerging superfoods. It’s high in protein, vitamins, iron, iodine. In particular, it’s high in vitamin B12, and for those on a vegan diet that’s a vitamin that’s hard to get from natural sources. Given the rain we’ve been having of late, it’s also a naturally growing food which just needs to be plucked from the shoreline.

Harvesting Porphyra Umbilicalis on the western coast of Wales. Copyright Selwyn’s Seafoods

So where can you get this superfood? One major producer is Selwyn’s Seafoods, who were kind enough to send me some of these photos, based on the north coast of Gower, just west of Swansea. If you find yourself in Swansea market, a feast for the senses on so many levels, then there are several stalls selling it. Further west, the Mill Café in St Davids serve a generous portion of it in their Welsh breakfast. St Davids also has Car y Mor, who sell the dried version. And in south Pembrokeshire, the village of Angle has Café Mor (the café of the sea) which uses laver seaweed extensively in all its cooking, and they also sell both dried laver and laverbread.

The coastline at Porthgain, Pembrokeshire

I’m lucky enough to live near the village of Porthgain in Pembrokeshire. So this weekend I’ll be on a local beach just as the tide is ebbing, with a container to cut and collect some of the new growth (which has a slightly subtler flavour) and that’ll be my supply for the coming year. Enjoy!

 

 

About the Author

Keith Thomas is a professionally qualified Wales Tourist Guide who loves to share his expert knowledge of Wales, its stunning National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its rich and varied history – did you know Wales has over 600 castles? For unforgettable driver-guided tours of Wales contact Keith here.