Foraging: Pepper Dulse
Hastings isn’t great for seaweeds. On a scale of one to ten for seaweed foraging, it just about manages a two. The main beach actually scores a minus one, because not only is there nothing worth finding on the rocks exposed at low tide, if you try to get there you are likely to end up stuck knee-deep in mud; it’s positively dangerous. Things improve a bit as you head towards Bulverhythe and Bexhill, but it is in the other direction, beyond Rock-a-Nore, where the goodies are to be found. There are still only three edible species to be found in any quantity, compared to ten or more on a good foraging beach. Two of these are very common Green Seaweeds (Sea Lettuce and Gutweed), which are widely used in soups or as a side vegetable. The third is nothing like as common, and has a growing reputation with trendy foodies as nothing less than “the truffle of the sea”.
When I first started seriously looking for edible seaweeds, Pepper Dulse was high on my “to find” list. It stayed there for quite a while, partly because it doesn’t grow in most of the places I looked, but also because it is easy to overlook because it is rather small and unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, you are likely to dismiss it. I first found it in while on holiday in Pembrokeshire, having failed to locate it anywhere along the south coast. I have since found it in two south coast locations, one of which is Hastings.
The taste is unmistakable (making identification easy and safe). Most seaweeds play the role of a backdrop in a recipe, Pepper Dulse is more likely to be a centrepiece – one fresh sprig on some pan-fried sea bass, or the yolk of a fried egg, and the aroma subtly changes the whole dish. It is very hard to describe, so I am not even going to try, but you will know it when you find it. If you are going to use it fresh, then it needs to be very fresh indeed – it starts to deteriorate within 48 hours in a fridge. It can also be dried (in the sun if you’re lucky with the weather, otherwise in a low oven with the door open). It loses much of its pungency when dried (and will fill your house with fumes that make your eyes run), but it keeps indefinitely. Dried, ground Pepper Dulse makes an excellent seasoning for roast chicken, or to add flavour to soups and stews. As when fresh, it also goes well sprinkled on a fried egg.
If you don’t fancy a trip among the admittedly rather slippery rocks beyond Rock-a-Nore but would like to try some fresh Pepper Dulse, then you could visit the Hastings Independent stall at the Fish Festival on 8th and 9th July. I will be there with some other edible seaweeds for people to try, and I’m happy to talk to people about any aspect of foraging, both locally and further afield.
For more information on foraging, including coastal foraging sessions for private groups at a secret location, not far from Hastings, where a dozen different types of edible seaweed can be found in abundance, please visit my website www.geoffdann.co.uk, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.