If, as the poet claimed, the bravest man the world yet saw was the first to eat an oyster raw, the next bravest must have been his mate who tried laver. And the two foodstuffs have something else in common besides their external ugliness concealing a beautiful heart: the iodine content in both gives them related flavours.
Perhaps it was tried for a bet; perhaps out of necessity in harder times than our own. Happily it was eaten, though. The seaweed porphyra umbilicalis is gathered from rocks around the coast – and not just in Wales, there is plenty harvested in Scotland and both Devon and Somerset were well known for processing it in the past – then rinsed repeatedly in changes of water to get rid of sand and grit.
After being soaked for a good time in fresh water to reduce the saltiness, though it never disappears entirely, and sweetened with a little bicarb, the porphyra is cooked gently in the water that clings to it until what may be called a mush is left. This is drained, and however unappetising it may seem, it is how it will be sold on stalls in Swansea market, by food stores, cafes, and even chip vans.
The best known dish made with laver is very simple, just the processed puree rolled in oats to be fried at breakfast as a filling accompaniment to bacon and cockles, though bacon, sausages and mushrooms is more likely to be seen in South Wales hotels. Its affinity with cockles is reflected by the existence of market stalls in Swansea selling the two products together.
With a high mineral content, good protein level, and being rich in vitamins, laver is undoubtedly a healthy food, though the bacon and sausages often alongside it could diminish its impact on the system.
On this day: