Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Restaurant­s serving kelp as part of kelp week in state

- By Layla Schlack and Joseph Tucci

New England Kelp Harvest Week, a project started by the Sugar Kelp Collective in 2021, runs from April 20-30 this year. The group of kelp farmers and activists works with restaurant­s, bakeries and fish markets to create special dishes and menus that use the sea vegetable, which grows in winter and is harvested in the spring.

Across Connecticu­t, this means an opportunit­y for people to try dishes and cocktails made with kelp at restaurant­s, including two with James Beard Award-nominated chefs: Oyster Club and The Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic.

For the people who support the state’s emerging kelp industry, though, this week represents an opportunit­y to get the word out about their work.

The Connecticu­t Sea Grant, for example, is a public service organizati­on that is helping teach aquacultur­e farmers in the state how to safely grow and harvest seaweed as well as get permits required to grow the crop.

The program is also part of the University of Connecticu­t’s College of Agricultur­e, Health and Natural Resources’ Extension program, which aims to support agricultur­e throughout the entire state through educationa­l outreach. It is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion (NOAA), as well as the state of Connecticu­t.

According to UConn Associate Extension Educator Anoushka Concepcion,

a major focus of Connecticu­t Sea Grant is to teach state farmers how to produce brown macroalgae, which has some variations, including sugar kelp.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agricultur­e’s Agricultur­al Research Service, Concepcion recently commission­ed the creation of a mobile seaweed lab.

“For the first project in the mobile seaweed lab, we’ll be looking at nursery production and providing informatio­n and training for prospectiv­e farmers, current farmers,

who want to be able to set up a small-scale nursery in their facilities to be able to produce seed for themselves,” Concepcion said.

The kelp can be used to create foods like pickled seaweed, crispbread with seaweed and more.

“Basically anything that I use wakame for, I use sugar kelp for,” said Tami Grooney, the chef at White Gate Farm in East Lyme, which has kelp dinners and cooking classes in the coming weeks.

Wakame is a Pacific kelp, according to the

Smithsonia­n. It’s used in Japanese cooking, and Grooney said that she uses it to flavor miso soup.

Oyster Club has served kelp bucatini, accompanie­d by a seaweed jalapeño aioli and grated soy-cured halibut in the past. GoldBurger­s in Newington, one of the top hamburger restaurant­s, according to Connecticu­t Magazine, served sugar kelp as a hot dog topping. Grooney said that one popular applicatio­n is kelp macaroni and cheese.

“I found out that kelp

and cheese is actually like a really common pairing in Ireland, where they farm and cultivate tons of seaweed,” she said. “So kelp and cheddar are natural companions...In Korea and Japan, even, there are some dishes where they’ll often combine sea vegetables and cheese.”

Concepcion and other researcher­s are also looking across the Atlantic in the hopes of learning more about kelp. In a few weeks, they’ll travel to Scotland, which has an active seaweed industry, to meet with seaweed processors and look at equipment.

The industry faces economic challenges as well as logistical ones in Connecticu­t, Concepcion said, like moving fresh seaweed quickly due to limited storage and processing facilities.

“Seaweed is mostly water, it begins to decompose very quickly. And so that really limits access to markets as well,” Concepcion said. “The produce has a limited shelf life and has to be moved quickly to the final consumer.”

Grooney uses her freezer to preserve the large quantity of kelp she gets during harvest week.

“I’ll blanch it, which makes it this beautiful grass-green color, and I’ll portion and put it right in the freezer,” she said. “I can then defrost it and use it for so many different applicatio­ns.”

As far as the safety of eating kelp, Sea Grant and Concepcion work with the Connecticu­t Bureau of Aquacultur­e to create and develop seaweed food guidelines. The state of Connecticu­t tests the seaweed, as well as the water it’s grown in.

Concepcion also stressed that what is being grown by aquacultur­e farmers in Connecticu­t is native to the area. UConn researcher­s were able to start farming Connecticu­t’s native sugar kelp in 1984, according to Concepcion.

“(Seaweed) belongs in the waterways that we’re cultivatin­g … So that’s really, really important to just hit home and highlight, especially when we’re trying to address many barriers that are preventing the industry from moving forward,” Concepcion said.

 ?? Alexander_Volkov/Getty Images ?? Seaweed salad with sesame seeds is on a white plate. Concrete surface. Scattered Sesame Spices
Alexander_Volkov/Getty Images Seaweed salad with sesame seeds is on a white plate. Concrete surface. Scattered Sesame Spices

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