Eating local in New Hampshire can mean more than just stopping by the farmers' market. For more adventurous residents, it means foraging for wild ingredients – like seaweed, straight from the Seacoast.
NHPR’s Annie Ropeik reports this old culinary tradition is getting a second life.
It’s not always obvious, but Chef Evan Hennessey cooks with New Hampshire seaweed all the time at his restaurant, Stages, in Dover.
“If you add just a little bit to each sauce, each stock you make – not enough to where it’s like, OK, that’s seaweed, but it just kind of rounds it out,” Hennessey says. “It gives a stock that could have good flavor, great depth.”
He’s hustling around his restaurant’s compact kitchen as a dozen or so people peer in over the bar. They’re here for a New Hampshire Sea Grant workshop on pairing seaweed with chocolate.
Hennessey whips a mushroom-based seaweed broth into white foam, then spoons it over dried heirloom grapes rolled in cabbage powder. All that goes on a bed of edible sand, made of nut flours, sesame seeds and kelp-laced cocoa butter, furnished by Epping-based "bean-to-bar" chocolatier Enna Grazier.
The whole thing is topped off with a red kelp called dulse and a parsnip, both grilled on a juniper log, and finished with a piece of Grazier's seaweed-infused dark chocolate.
It’s safe to say this is not a beginner’s recipe. But Hennessey wants to show off how versatile seaweed and chocolate can be.
“Just kind of to start off using things in this super savory note, where you’ve got salty, you’ve got smoky, you’ve got earthy,” he says. “You can take them all the way through the beginning of your meal to the end.”
The diners’ eyes widen as they take their first bites. Kevin Jacques is a chef himself, at UNH, and he likes what he tastes.
“Cool flavors going on – textures, flavors,” he says. “The bit of the chocolate with that charred seaweed was awesome.”
Seaweed is also pretty nutritious, and it's everywhere on New Hampshire beaches.
It’s become so popular that Sea Grant and Gabby Bradt have started holding regular seaweed foraging classes at places like Odiorne Point State Park.
At a recent workshop, Bradt explained how to find healthy, edible seaweed, and cook with it.
Lots of it will wash up in New Hampshire’s salty tide pools during winter, but by now, the pickings are slim. She held up a long yellow-green tendril of bladder wrack, lined with squishy pods and little green blades.
“These tips, you can come and you can cut those off,” she said. “The blades really have this nutty, crunchy taste to it. So you can eat those.”
These workshops are a good way to learn simple seaweed recipes – chips, salads, hummus – even slipping it into a grilled cheese sandwich.
But back at the restaurant, Evan Hennessey is getting more creative to mark the end seaweed season.
Next, he serves up a local duck egg, vacuum-emulsified with that kelp-infused cocoa butter and topped with seaweed vinegar and powdered kale stems.
Then it’s seaweed and cocoa husk granita, a kind of shaved ice. And for dessert, a seaweed-chocolate ice cream and a frozen mousse sprinkled with Hennessey's hand-harvested New Hampshire sea salt.
These are trendy foods, but Hennessey says New Englanders have been foraging and cooking like this for generations.
“It’s moved past the whole local food idea,” he says. “It’s more of sort of old-world, natural approach to look around us and cook with what you can get your hands on.”
More than that, he says, talk to your neighbors and friends, see what they’re growing – or finding – and let that dictate your menu.