Laverbread – The story and a recipe

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HAZEL THOMAS November 6, 2020

BARA LAWR  / LAVERBREAD

I could never really understand why people loved laverbread as a child. Known as Bara Lawr in Welsh it is traditionally rolled in oats and cooked alongside the bacon and eggs for breakfast. Strange how something that looks so unappealing suddenly takes on a new meaning when you start to use it in different ways. I first started adding laverbread to my dishes when I ran Caffi Sara Bara at Rhiannon’s Gold Centre in Tregaron for a Season. It was my chance to return to my roots as a trained Chef and as I had been working as a Food Consultant promoting Welsh Food Produce at a number of prestigious Food Events, I felt that it was really important to use Welsh produce, local where possible, on my menu.

The cockle and laverbread quiche soon became a very popular dish on the menu and in many ways inspired me to see laverbread as an ingredient that you could add to dishes rather than serve it up as a stand alone statement on your plate. I have included my recipe for this Quiche so I hope you might try this out. Please let me know how you get on.

For a more detailed and historical account on Laverbread I would recommend you look at the information found on the Pembrokeshire Beachfood website. Incidentally this company now produce the best Rum I have ever tasted which contains seaweed and is called Barti Ddu Rum. You can google laverbread to your hearts content so I am not planning on repeating any of that information here but there are a few things about this super food that are worth mentioning as you will see later on in this blog. What I would also  like to note is that apparently the name “Welshman’s caviar” was actually given to laverbread by actor Richard Burton, and early historical records even found laver was eaten as a survival food by people fleeing from the Vikings.

It is an ingredient which is really high in iron and iodine and a great source of Vitamin D, perhaps one of the reasons it was so popular with those who worked underground and lacked sunlight which is so vitally important to our health.  You do need to be careful though, as with all things, to not over indulge. There are always some side effects to be weary of, especially as iodine regulates our thyroid glands so do your research before purchasing tons of the stuff. Everything in moderation would be my advice. Once a week would be more than enough to start with.

When I was diagnosed with Colon Cancer back in 2013 one of the first things that I did was to contact Phillip Day and to ask him what I should be doing as the first steps to healing myself. His advice was simple, start taking Vitamin D3 and Selenium straight away. I knew that my work meant that I was inside for most of the day and then it would be straight home and into the kitchen so yes I probably was lacking in Vitamin D so knowing that laverbread is a good natural source of Vitamin D only prompted me to think again about ways of using this as an ingredient in my dishes.

Laver seaweed has been cultivated as a food since at least the 17th century. It is prepared by washing the seaweed repeatedly before being boiled until it becomes a soft mush. This is when it becomes laverbread. The gelatinous paste that results can then be sold as it is, and which you can (or could before Covid) purchase fresh at Llanelli, Swansea and Cardiff indoor markets.  And probably in some areas of North Wales as well. Thankfully we also have companies who produce Laverbread for online sales.  https://www.selwynsseaweed.com/

Cultivation of laver seaweed as food is thought to be very ancient, with the first mention in William Camden’s Britannia in the early 17th century.  Laver seaweed cultivation is typically associated with Wales, and it is still gathered off the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire coasts, although similar farming methods are used on the west coast of Scotland. Laver seaweed is often associated with Penclawdd and its cockles, being used traditionally in the Welsh diet and still eaten widely across Wales in the form of laverbread. You can find some interesting information about Laverbread on the People’s Collection Wales website. In addition to Wales, laverbread is eaten across the Bristol Channel in North Devon, especially the Exmoor coast around Lynmouth, Combe Martin and Ilfracombe. In North Devon it is generally not cooked with oatmeal and is simply referred to as ‘laver’ (lay-ver).

Laverbread can be eaten cold as I found out once at the Lorient Festival in Brittany where I was promoting Welsh produce for the Welsh Government’s Food Directorate one year. To my amazement the Bretons and other visitors to the event loved eating the cold laverbread served with  bits of crusty bread.

I have included my very own recipe for making a Cockle and Laverbread Quiche but you can leave out the cockles if you prefer. Why not try adding some Laverbread to a fish sauce. You simply heat some fish stock until it has reduced before adding some double cream and as it comes to the boil whisk in some unsalted butter. Just prior to serving this sauce with poached salmon or other fish stir in some laverbread. You could also add a handful of capers to the sauce.

I hope you find this blog interesting and please let me know if you would like me to write about anything in particular to do with Traditional Welsh Food and recipes.

Happy cooking and eating

Hazel

Hazel’s Cockle and Laverbread Quiche

Ingredients for the filling   

1 red onion, peeled and diced fairly finely

1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper (de-seeded and diced fairly small)

A small amount of fresh ginger finely chopped

About 2 dessert spoons of laverbread

1 Small jar o cockles (washed and drained to remove the vinegar) OPTIONAL

100gm of a good flavoured cheese (grated)

2 eggs and about half a pint of milk (I also add some creme fraiche to the milk)

Method                                                                                                                                                                      Cook the peppers, onions and ginger in a little butter to soften and cook but not colour before leaving to one side to cool. Mix your eggs with your milk and add some black pepper and a little creme fraiche. Add the laverbread to the milk mixture. When the filling is cold distribute evenly onto the pastry lined quiche and pour the milk mixture over this. Sprinkle your drained and dry cockles onto the top (if you are using them) and then add the grated cheese. Cook for around 40 mins at 180C until the pastry is firm and the quiche nicely browned on the top. Serve with a salad of shredded cruciferous vegetable tossed in a cider vinegar dressing.

For the Pastry                                                                                                                                                        Make some pastry using around 8oz of flour and 4oz of butter – Rub the butter into the flour to resemble breadcrumbs. Add a pinch of salt and I sometimes chop up some herbs such as chives into the flour before adding my egg or water to bring the mixture together into a dough. Leave to chill in the fridge before rolling out and lining a greased quiche dish.