If you’ve never liked the taste of seaweed, Josh Rogers is determined to change your mind during Seaweed Week, which begins Friday and runs through May 4.
“A lot of people, their experience with seaweed is on the beach, and it’s brown and it’s rotting and it smells bad,” said Rogers, owner of Heritage Seaweed in Portland and the founder of Seaweed Week: A Food + Drink Celebration of Maine’s Kelp Harvest.
Rogers says you should think of seaweed the way you think of vegetables. You may hate some kinds of vegetables, but other ones you love and eat regularly. It’s the same with seaweed, he says. Dried sea lettuce from Maine, for example, has a white truffle smell and flavor.
“There really are savory umami flavors,” Rogers said. “There are some that have a spicy, peppery flavor. There are some that taste lemony.”
Different varieties of seaweed can also taste different depending on how they’re prepared – raw or toasted, tossed into a soup, or sautéed. That’s why Rogers has recruited chefs and bartenders from more than 50 restaurants, distilleries and breweries around the state who will be preparing special seaweed dishes, cocktails and beers to put on their menus during Seaweed Week, which falls right in the middle of kelp harvest time.
The special week, Rogers said, is “something that we probably couldn’t have had a few years ago. We are reaching a critical mass of diversity of (seaweed) companies in Maine.”
Historically, seaweed has been wild-harvested in Maine. Then, about a decade ago, Casco Bay became home to the state’s first seaweed farm, Rogers said. Today, there are 35 to 40 active kelp farms in the state, and nearly 150 kelp farm leases. That’s not to mention all the companies selling value-added seaweed products.
The growth of the industry is reflected in the fact that there are three big seaweed events happening in Maine this year. In addition to Seaweed Week, a two-day conference called Seaweed Sessions will be held on June 19 and 20, organized by sustainable agriculture group Greenhorns, Maine Sea Grant and the Downeast Salmon Federation, and Rockland will host a Maine Seaweed Fair on July 20.
Meanwhile, public perception of these vegetables from the sea has been slowly changing, thanks in part to Americans’ embrace of sushi – and, in the past five years, seaweed snacks.
“If you have kids under 10 years old, you know about seaweed snacks,” Rogers said. “It’s like sushi on steroids.”
But most people do not move beyond their love of nori and miso soup, even though seaweed is chock full of vitamins, minerals, essential aminos and antioxidants. Rogers is hoping that by encouraging chefs to experiment with seaweed, and encouraging people to try their creations, seaweed will take a giant leap forward in the dining public’s consciousness.
“There are definitely people doing interesting, creative things with it,” Rogers said, “but I think through Instagram and other things, chefs are going to inspire each other to take it to the next level.”
For more information on any of these events, go to seaweedweek.org
What: Maine Seaweed Week Kickoff Party
Where: Maine Craft Distilling, 123 Washington Ave., Portland
When: 4:30 to 8 p.m.
How much: Free
What: From Sea Farm to Table Dinner, presented by the Island Institute
Where: Sur Lie, 11 Free St., Portland
When: Optional cocktail hour begins at 5 p.m., dinner is from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
How much: $80, order at 207tix.com. Ticket price includes a copy of Maine chef and author Barton Seaver’s seaweed cookbook.
What: Fyood Kitchen Competition: Maine Seaweed Edition. Limited to 20 people.
Where: Fork Food Lab, 72 Parris, Portland
When: 6-9 p.m.
How much: $99, order at seaweedweek.org
EAT YOUR SEAWEED
Here’s a selection of seaweed-focused dishes, cocktails and beers that will be served in the Portland area during Maine Seaweed Week. More than 50 restaurants, distilleries and breweries statewide are participating in the event. They’ll be making everything from fine dining entrees to cocktails, beer and even ice cream – all containing some kind of seaweed.
UNION: Breakfast dish of smoked salmon tartine, pumpernickel toast, cream cheese, caper berries, pickled sugar kelp and kombu “everything spice.”
VENA’S FIZZ HOUSE: The Mermaid’s Garden, a cocktail made with seaweed-infused Bimini gin, lime juice, simple syrup, green Chartreuse, mint and Vena’s Bitter Cedric.
OTTO PIZZA: Seaweed, Avocado & Fresh Herbed Vidalia Pizza with Honey Drizzled Cashews. Available by the slice at both Congress Street locations.
INKWELL (bar at the Press Hotel): Soy & black vinegar pickled eggs, kewpie, nori powder and house potato chips with spicy seaweed furikake.
SCALES: Changing daily specials, beginning with a Jonah crab salad served with dulse potato chips for scooping, followed by grilled oysters with seaweed butter, local lamb tartare with pickled kelp, or a filet of bluefish grilled on a fresh kelp leaf with bacon and spring vegetables in a sherry pan sauce.
TWO FAT CATS: Individual quiche cups filled with egg, seaweed, spinach, feta and roasted red peppers.
ROOT WILD KOMBUCHA: “Sea Smoke” kombucha with dulse seaweed and lapsang souchong (a smoked black tea)
THIRSTY PIG: Shodog with sesame garlic confit, nori strip, wasabi dijon and pickled carrot.
HARDSHORE DISTILLING: Shoreline Martini, a cocktail made with dulse-infused gin, orange bitters and house-made bitters.
WOODFORD F&B: Soft-boiled eggs with smoked trout caviar, house seaweed spice and kombu toast soldiers.
FOULMOUTHED BREWING AND BARRELED SOULS: Chocolate seaweed stout collaboration called Sealab, brewed with toasted cocoa nibs and dried sugar kelp.