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Dulse Tapenade: the Province meets Provence

dulse tapenade

When I was a child, I hadn’t yet discovered my high umami fascination. Olives didn’t tickle me, I only liked anchovies marinaded and one of the strongest memories of disliking a food in childhood came with one of the strongest flavours I tasted, in the shape of dulse. Dulse is a seaweed, very common around the coast of Ireland and particularly associated for us with the north coast town of Ballycastle and its famed Auld Lammas Fair. In an early adoption of the salt sweet craze, people bring Yellowman and dulse back from there as treats and it was this contrast that caused my long lasting reaction.

Yellowman is the sweetest crunchy thing you can imagine and dulse is intensely iron rich and seawater salty with a slightly rubbery texture and it is one extreme to the other for a five year old. I never eaten dulse since and the thought of it has always made me feel a bit queasy. But when I was back in Belfast last week, I went for lunch at the Belfast Barge and ordered their superb seafood platter and in with the spankingly fresh seafood and fish was a healthy sprinkling of dulse that would be hard to avoid.

Belfast Barge seafood platter

Bravely loading up my fork with some dulse, a caper or two and a marinaded anchovy, I tried it again, hoping the flavours I liked would hide the one I didn’t. I was very very surprised when I loved it. The flavours all went together like nobody’s business and appealed to my umami addiction utterly. It was so good that before I had finished the plate, I was asking my mum where I could get some dulse to bring home.

I wanted to combine those fishy and salty and savoury flavours to the fullest extent and my mind immediately went to tapenade, loaded up with olives, anchovies and capers and dulse. It needed something fresh and clean on the side and Felicity Cloake solved my dilemma by posting a ceviche recipe this week. Not only do I now know how to liven up a sea bream, but I’d found my perfect partner for the ultimate umami paste!

Dulse Tapanade: makes enough for two people

  • 20g dulse (mail order here or get from St George’s Market on a Saturday or the Bethany Fruit & Veg on the Cregagh Road)
  • 20 black olives, stoned
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • squirt lemon juice
  • good handful parsley and fresh thyme

Check your dulse carefully for any small shells or crustaceans, then chop roughly. Add into a hand blender along with the olives, capers and anchovies, all of which should also been finely chopped. Blitz until mixed. (You could also use a pestle and mortar.)

Add the olive oil and lemon juice until you reach the desired consistency. Because this was a main course thing for me, I kept it drier and chunkier, but if you wanted to make it a dip add more until smooth. It’s super easy to make and should take about 5 minutes tops.

I served mine with boiled Charlotte potatoes (Sainsbury’s Basics Salad Potatoes are the less shapely Charlottes and are under a quid) and with the lime and salt rich ceviche on the side. This is not entry level umami. This is the equivalent of the 80s ads where the Tango man slaps you round the face with a salty fishy savoury explosion. It’s addictively good. I smothered my spuds in tapenade and when I ran out of carbs, ate it by dunking broccoli florets in it, revelling in every tantalisingly over the top mouthful, unable to get quite enough of it.

The sharp of tang of the soft fish (and Felicity’s recipe with sea bream was bang on) cuts through the oiliness of the tapenade perfectly while enhancing it completely. This was one of those meals that took less than 15 minutes to make, was utterly simple in its ingredients and was so good I could hardly believe it. Just perfect for these lingeringly warm autumnal days, I can hardly believe how much I’ve fallen for dulse. This must mean I’m a grown up now!

Dulse Tapenade

Yellowman meets yellow butter…

Having invited some friends to Sunday brunch, I wasn’t quite sure what to make. Combining two meals into one raises the stakes somewhat and a rubbery fried egg and some cold toast wouldn’t cut it. So I googled brunch ideas and the clear winner was this Bill Granger recipe for ricotta pancakes with honeycomb butter. Soft fluffy pancakes with sweet crunchy butter sounded just the ticket and offered the perfect opportunity to educate my English and American guests about proper yellowman instead of this honeycomb malarkey…

Yellowman is the Irish name for this aerated sugar creation you probably know as the middle of a Crunchie bar or possibly as cinder toffee. It is famed throughout Ireland and particularly associated in the North with the famous Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle around the end of August. Paper cones or pokes of yellowman were served at the fair, traditionally accompanied with the famous dulse or dried seaweed. Perhaps an Irish precursor of the salted caramel trend we all know and love now, I found this combo utterly revolting as a child. Dulse had the texture of shoe leather dipped in salt and I could never understand why people brought it back from Ballycastle for us. I already hadn’t been on holiday, why punish me further? I might feel differently these days though.

I loved yellow man though with its sticky rough crunchy feel and glorious sunny colour reminiscent of late summer sunshine and long weekends before school started again. Skipping the side dish of dulse and adding it into butter sounded like improving on something already pretty perfect. Filled with the warm glow of childhood memory and refined sugar, I decided I would live dangerously and make my own yellowman for this recipe as I remember people making it when I was a child and saying how easy it was.

Seeking Irish expertise, (and soundtracking the event with the tones of Jamaica’s finest and appropriately named reggae artist Yellowman) I decided to follow Niamh’s recipe at Eat Like a Girl especially as she omits the butter some recipes use. I’m nervous enough round molten sugar without potentially burning butter to boot. Warned to use a deep pan, I got the Le Cresuet out and started melting. Unfortunately because I am incapable of reading recipes correctly at the moment, I used 200 ml of golden syrup instead of 200g so may have had too much in the mixture, which is why when my trusty thermometer said the mixture had reached the magic 150°C or hard crack stage, the whole thing had gone from an alluring golden amber to burnt umber. I bunged the bicarb in anyway and was unprepared for how much it foamed up. Unsure whether I was meant to stir (ie: put my hand near boiling sugar that is exploding) my hesitation meant there was yellowman mix all over the cooker and even belated stirring didn’t help that much. I poured the remaining mix into a lined tray and set about scraping the sugar off the cooker. I certainly know why the Scots call it puff candy

Sampling a bit left on the pan, I established that the sugar had gone from sickly sweet to acidic and overcooked. I decided to start again, using the correct amount of golden syrup this time. Thinking this is where I’d gone wrong, I followed the recipe exactly otherwise, again going for the hard crack stage and ending up again with darker looking sugar than I’d have liked. I added the bicarb, stirring like a dervish and although it puffed up like a more alluring indoor firework, the yellowman still didn’t look sunshine yellow. In fact eagle eyed readers will have noted that it is in fact that the kind of burnished hue usually only seen on a contestant on Snog Marry Avoid. It also had the same acrid tang of burned sugar as the previous batch.

Having run out of refined sugar products to ruin and acutely aware I was spending my Saturday night in a fog of sticky smelling smoke, I gave up at this point and turned my attention to washing up both sugar caked pots I’d used, realising I should have taken the mix of the heat before it got to the hard crack stage and see if that helped. I also discovered when ruining another recipe later in the week, that I am reading the thermometer wrong! So please don’t be scared to try this recipe unless like me you paid no attention in science class and can’t read a thermometer.*

I then went out the next morning and bought a four pack of Crunchies, denuding them of chocolate with a sharp knife and then mashing them into some softened (and thinking back to the dulse, salted) butter before shaping into a roll and chilling for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Once the guests arrived, I turned my attention to the pancakes. Despite the seemingly complicated two step batter, these are incredibly easy to make and quicker than a regular batter as they don’t need to sit. Spoonfuls of the thick yet light batter went into a hot pan and puffed up beautifully as they turned golden brown. Served up alongside some crisp streaky bacon, these little pancakes were pretty perfect as they were. But adding in the butter took them to a whole new level.

Flecked with shimmering jewels of honeycomb, the butter added a soft yet crunchy, sweet yet not sickly layer of deliciousness to the pancakes. Combining the best of the world of the whipped style butter and syrup the Americans serve with pancakes, you no longer have to choose between the two toppings, but enhance them by creating the best butter in the world. The crunch worked perfectly with the soft pancakes and the sweetness took the bacon up a notch too. There were no pancakes left and only a scraping of the butter once we’d all finished, even though we also had light crumbly corn muffins and a slightly spiced berry compote on our plates too.

Once my guests had left, I finished off the butter on the leftover muffins and reminded myself that it was so good, it had been worth all the fluffy faffing with sugar and syrup the night before. I will be trying making yellowman again instead of trimming a million Crunchie bars, so that I can make an entire block of the butter and then eat it with a spoon. Or make the best toast in the world. Don’t make the pancakes without it. It’s so worth the extra effort!

*I’d also like to thank Niamh who took time out to see if she could help me sort my problem with the yellowman despite me slightly slandering her poor recipe’s good name. I feel very reassured now.