Monday, 16 August 2010

Another celebrity uses seaweed

Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck tops Good Food Guide again

The Fat Duck (exterior)Blumenthal is known for using experiments and chemistry to create dishes
The Fat Duck restaurant, owned by chef Heston Blumenthal, has been named the UK's best restaurant for the third year in a row.
The Michelin-starred diner was awarded 10 out of 10 by the Good Food Guide and described as producing "world-beating dishes for the bedazzled throngs".
The restaurant, in Bray, Berkshire, beat Gordon Ramsay's Royal Hospital Road into second place.
Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, in Oxford, was third.

Top 10 restaurants

1. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire
2. Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London
3. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire
4. L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria
5. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall
6. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
7. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London
8. Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
9. Pied-a-Terre, London
10. The Square, London
Ramsay's flagship restaurant was the only London establishment to make the top five of the guide.
L'Enclume, in the Cumbrian village of Cartmel, and Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, in Cornwall, were named in fourth and fifth place by the guide, compiled by consumer group Which?
Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of The Good Food Guide, said: "Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay continue to delight us with their stuff of genius, world-class style and truly memorable dining experiences.
"But we've seen significant changes in the UK restaurant scene over the last year.
"A crop of talent has sprung up all over the country, pushing London restaurants out of the top spots with their culinary delights."
Television chef Blumenthal is known for his use of experiments and chemistry to create his dishes.
The tasting menu includes a course called Sound of the Sea, during which the diner eats smoked fish, edible "sand" and "seaweed" while listening to seagulls on an iPod.

seaweed in the news

Let's call him Lucky", I say, as one of the leaders of our seaside foraging course, Xa Milne, lifts a shore crab from the fringes of algae that line a dark rock-pool. Our quarry is a titch, with one leg missing, but his runtiness has saved him. That's because, according to Milne, the body of these arthropods has to be at least 12cm in diameter before you can legally take them home, 

"Not a lot of meat on that one," she says, before dropping Lucky back into the water, with a plop.

But that's not such bad news for our hungry group, as there are plenty of other spoils to be found on a stroll along the pale yellow sands of Elie Beach on the East Neuk of Fife. We're taking part in a Forage Rangers seaside session, which has been organised by Milne and her friend Fiona Houston, who are joint authors of foraging reference book, Seaweed and Eat It.

The theme of this lesson seems particularly timely, as many of us will be spending our summer holidays "a-la-plage" in the UK this year. Armed with the right knowledge, there's no reason why more of us couldn't head out at low tide with wellies on, bucket in hand, looking for dinner.

You see, what this lot really, really want to find is a lobster. This is possible, but not guaranteed, as Milne says: "It's a bit like going on safari, you're not always going to see a leopard."

We'll be far luckier if we think vegetarian as, in contrast, edible algae is everywhere. If we want to harvest it, we're told that we have to avoid effluent (EU Blue Flag beaches, like the one at Elie, are preferable), only pick living seaweed and cut the plants with scissors, so they can regenerate. Aside from that, go crazy. After all, as Milne says, "You can eat all varieties of seaweed, it's just that some taste better than others." 
Lucky the crab
Lucky the crab

The first species that we stumble upon is flat-stranded kelp, which can be found in huge quantities on almost every British beach. It looks a bit like discarded Super 8 film reel and can be used to wrap sushi, or flavour the Oriental cooking stock, dashi. As Milne says; "My Chinese friend was gobsmacked that we don't eat it."

The unseasoned flavour isn't, however, the most compulsively delicious thing we've ever tried. My boyfriend, Rolf, chews a corner, before describing it as "salty apple skin". I concur, although, one of the dogs that's tagging along on our session, an elderly bull terrier named Myrtle, can't stop gorging herself on this iodine-rich plant.

"That's a good sign that it's fresh," says Houston.

Perhaps Myrtle is lacking in vitamins as, despite its lack of flavour, kelp is packed with nutrients. This makes it of special interest to one of today's participants, Tara Graham, 36, from St Andrews.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

SEAWEED and excitement are an unlikely combination. But that was the case for marine ecologist Dr Heather Sugden as she surveyed the Northumbrian coastline.

Her discovery of dabberlocks seaweed, a cold water kelp, was the highlight of her investigations of the rocky shores from Boulmer to the Borders.

The study, funded by Natural England, is part of a nationwide examination of the shoreline, which is providing information on the effects of climate change.

Dr Sugden said the kelp species had been disappearing from UK southern shores and was believed to be retreating north.

It was last recorded at Robin Hood’s bay in North Yorkshire.

“We thought it had disappeared completely so to find it in Northumberland was fantastic,” said Dr Sugden.

“It is now incredibly rare in the south but it has found a refuge in the North East.”

The seaweed provides important nursery areas for fish, and as no similar species has filled the vacant niche, there is concern for the potential loss of habitat where young fish can develop.

The survey was the first time the North East shoreline had been studied as part of the long-term Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change project.

The information from the surveys helps scientists understand the effects of climate change on the marine environment.

The project began in 2001 and since 2005 85 locations around the coastline of England, Wales and Scotland have been surveyed.

The North East exercise, by Dr Sugden and colleague Dr Nova Meiskowska from the Marine Biological Association plotted the distribution and abundance of 67 species of shells, seaweed, snails, sponges, anemones and urchins.

Dr Sugden said: “Barnacles, limpets and seaweed are a familiar features, but they are also excellent indicators of changes in the environment.

“We are interested in what the coastal ecology of the North East can tell us about the way that the climate may be changing.

“This region is a key area in which range limits of intertidal species are likely to be changing in response to warming coastal temperatures

“The North East is one of the few areas that has never been systematically surveyed and urgently needs a benchmark from which to measure future changes.

“Seaweed was once used to predict the weather, and now it also has a role in helping understand the impacts of climate change on the marine environment.

“The information from the survey will provide a benchmark that can be used to identify future changes in abundance and distribution of intertidal species, and help predict potential changes resulting from the effects of changing temperatures.”

She said that the survey also illustrated the richness of marine life on the Northumberland coast.

“The biodiversity we found is spectacular. The Northumbrian coast is a hidden gem.

“The fantastic biodiversity shows how almost pristine and beautiful the Northumberland coastline is.”

The latest research shows that some fish species have moved northwards over the past 30 years by distances ranging from around 50 to 400km, with cold water species such as monkfish and snake blenny moving the furthest.

It is thought that climate change has contributed to a decrease by approximately 9% in the total number of seabirds breeding in the UK between 2000 and 2008.

Increasing sea temperatures may have the potential to increase the geographic range of some harmful algal bloom species associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning events.

Dr Sugden, who worked as a marine adviser with Natural England in Newcastle, this week began a new job at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats.

She will be working on the Big Sea Survey, a project in which seeks to involve communities in their local marine environment.

Volunteers will continue to monitor a stretch of shoreline.