Thursday, 23 June 2016

Hermitcraft: Fucus

Though delicious, Fucus (FYOO-kuss) has a marketing problem. The genus sounds like some kind of fungal disease; its common names – rockweed, bladderwrack – are hardly better. But once you've tasted it, nothing else will do.

Fucus is a distinctive, prolific seaweed, readily identified by the yellow-green "mittens" at the end of each frond. These endear it to children, who love to pop them. Incredibly tenacious, bladderwrack thrives in the harsh upper tidal zone, and is therefore accessible at all but the highest tides.

This remarkable alga, adapted to long, thirsty stretches high and dry, will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator. Used fresh, it lends nutrients and a suggestion of shrimp to sauces and soups. The flavour compliments tomato bases especially well.

Fucus also dries readily, dwindling to unrecognisable wiry black shreds that spring miraculously back to life after a brief soak. (It's also one of the rare marine algae that bear up in fresh water.)

Dried bladderwrack can be lightly toasted and crumbled on salads and baked potatoes, for mock-crustacean tang. Eaten as a snack chip, it goes surprisingly well with a crisp blond beer.

Fresh Fucus is a powerful source of Vitamin C, while protein accounts for up to 25 per cent of its dried weight. In the past, bladderwrack tea (see below) was taken for goiter, a painful swelling of the thyroid glands occasioned by iodine deficiency – yet another Fucus asset. Full-spectrum nutrition also made bladderwrack tea a traditional, if ironic, response to both starvation and obesity in Scottish fishing villages.

On the scientific front, modern studies have found that Fucus extracts reduce plasma cholesterol in rats, are an effective anticoagulant, and may even be useful in treating radiation poisoning.

The resilience of this vinyl-looking weed means that you can often gather heaps of it from the beach after a storm; if sufficiently fresh, all it needs is a vigorous wash and you've got pounds of delicious food. (On sand beaches it can be difficult to get the grit off those sticky clusters, but I just dry them on a clothesline and bag the result. What sand survives washing and drying collects in the bottom of the sack.)

But do check for barnacles and epiphytes before collecting a washed-up clump. In the open sea bladderwrack often plays host to a variety of other life forms, and is increasingly likely to be encrusted the further out you get from new spring growth.

In calmer waters, where Fucus blankets logs, pilings, and rocks, you can simply snip fronds from the growing plant, leaving the rest intact. Because it grows so densely you can gather quite a bit this way in little time, with minimal impact to the community.

So give Fucus a try on your next beach trip. Those who get past the name(s) soon come to appreciate its true beauty.

A few recipes:

o Bladderwrack Tea

(This "tea", which tastes more like a seafood stock, is savoury and satisfying.)

Steep 1 tablespoon of dried and toasted Fucus in a cup of boiling water, or four tablespoons in a pot, for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink.

Typical amendments include soy sauce, black pepper, lemon juice, hot sauce, and malt vinegar. My favourite: seafood cocktail sauce. (A smooth variety, without pickle chunks.)

The leftover leaves can be used in cooking.

o Bladderwrack Breakfast

Slice up some bacon or sausage and fry it soft. Pour off the fat that pours off.

Add minced garlic and chopped onion.

Add chopped fresh Fucus. (Make sure to slice the mittens in half, or they'll explode in your face.)

Throw in a diced tomato, or canned equivalent. In the absence of these, I use tomato juice or sauce.

Sauté till the bladderwrack is bright green and tender. (Bear in mind it'll always remain al dente.)

Grind in some black pepper and serve over rice, or as a side dish with eggs, hash browns, etc.

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