Despite my many trips to Pembrokeshire over the years I only tasted Laverbread recently and was surprised by its taste. It is a traditional Welsh dish and Laver is an edible seaweed which is gathered around the Pembrokeshire and Gower coastlines (and Scotland too, apparently!). In the early 19th century, Laverbread (bara lawr), bacon, cockles and sausages was a common meal for miners. Laver is highly nutritious because of its high proportions of protein, iron, and especially iodine. It also contains high levels of vitamins B2, A, D and C. The high iodine content gives the Laverbread its distinctive flavour which is similar to olives and oysters.
The name Laverbread came from the “Laver” being the type of seaweed and “bread” because they mixed the seaweed with oats. To make Laverbread, the seaweed is boiled for several hours then minced or puréed. The gelatinous paste that results looks like very dark spinach. Laver is unique among seaweeds because it is only one cell thick so it looks almost transparent when floating in the sea. The main variety is Purple Laver (Porphyra laciniata / Porphyra umbilicalis) and this tends to be a brownish colour, but boils down to a dark green pulp when prepared.
The first mention of Laver as food is in Camden's Britannia in 1607 but it has probably been eaten for centuries. It is described as being harvested from Eglwys Abernon Beach near St Davids in Pembrokeshire and in 1797 it was reported that earthenware jars of pickled porphyra were being exported from Watchet in Somerset. In 1865 George Borrow on his travels through "Wild Wales" mentioned "moor mutton and piping hot laver sauce" as one of South Wales' great dishes – which sounds a great recipe and is one that I will definitely try. After all roast lamb is good with anchovies and rosemary stuffed into the skin so I think Laverbread could be a good option. I'll let you know how I get on with the dish.
Nowadays Welsh chefs use Laverbread in recipes that include lamb with Laver pesto, Laver ravioli, black risotto, Laverbread Dahl, sauces for canapés and fish dishes (crab, monkfish etc) and Laver soup (Cawl Lafwr). Richard Burton has been attributed as describing Laverbread as the "Welshman's Caviar" Laver is also a delicacy in Japan where it is mainly used for sushi meals.
The recipe I tried in Pembrokeshire was Laverbread with cockles and bacon. I used cooked cockles and Laverbread which I stirred into bacon fried in butter. It tasted delicious but the Laverbread is a sticky purée and it did not look as appetising as it tasted! I think that making Laverbread patties would have been better.
Here is a recipe to try:
knob of butter
freshly ground white pepper
8 rashers of bacon
Mix the Laverbread with the oatmeal and the white pepper. Leave to stand for 20 minutes. Heat a frying pan, add the butter and then sauté until soft. Shape the Laverbread mix into patties and fry until crispy on both sides. Once cooked leave somewhere warm. Fry the bacon in a separate pan and then add the cockles and cook until warmed through. Serve with the Laverbread patties.
Laverbread is difficult to pair with wine but depending on the recipe you are making you can follow some basic ground rules: Champagne or Sparkling Wine will go with practically any Laverbread dish. If you are using Laverbread with lamb I would opt for a Bordeaux Clairet or Rosé for their fruitiness. If you are using Laverbread with fish or as a canapé then a white wine that pairs well with oysters would be a good idea – such as a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from the Entre Deux Mers.