Laverbread is a real pub quiz question of a food. It’s a Welsh delicacy, an iodine-rich puree made from simmering Porphyra laciniata, a purple seaweed, for hours. The resulting paste looks unprepossessing, but tastes fabulous. Like oysters, its flavour is redolent of the sea – to eat laverbread is to imagine yourself standing on a rockpool-surrounded beach, breathing the salty, ozone-thick spray.
I’m lucky enough to have married into a family full of food-loving Welsh ladies. Dr W’s mum makes sublime Welsh cakes (little griddle cakes packed with currants) when we visit; she even has a special gas burner that lives in the cupboard especially for griddling purposes. (Yes, I plan to steal the recipe one day.) Her sister, Auntie S, still lives in Wales. Because she is totally fabulous, Auntie S sent a Welsh hamper to me here in the grim fens for my birthday. Alongside the tea blend, the Welsh honey, the plum jam, the whisky marmalade and the Caerphilly oatcakes lay a jar of pickled cockles and my first ever tin of laverbread. Straight out of the tin, it’s unprepossessing stuff (see the picture below), but it smells tremendously seaside-y, and licking the end of a finger dipped into it confirms that it’s delicious.
There are always pinhead-milled oats in the cupboard (I like porridge for breakfast), and a favourite Welsh application of laverbread is to mix the dark paste with fine/medium oatmeal to bind it and make it crisp, then to fry it in bacon fat and serve it alongside a cooked breakfast. I also added a non-traditional shallot to the mixture, which was extremely good, adding a base of sweetness against the iodine saltiness of the seaweed. (The shallot is strictly optional and not remotely Welsh.) Making these laverbread cakes took all of ten minutes, and they’re among the tastiest things I’ve eaten in months. To make about eight little cakes (enough to serve two – you’ll want four each because they’re gorgeous) you’ll need:
120g tin laverbread
50g fine/medium oatmeal
A couple of tablespoons of bacon fat
Dice the shallot very finely, and mix well with the laverbread and oatmeal until you have a thick paste. Form the paste into flat patties about five centimetres in diameter and a centimetre thick. Fry in the hot bacon fat in a non-stick pan for about three minutes a side, until the laverbread cakes are crisp and brown. Serve immediately as part of a cooked breakfast.