I have a utter soft spot for the seaweed known as Irish Moss. When cooked, this seaweed has a fabulous texture, setting ability and taste that makes me melt inside. It's perfect for setting panna cottas, vegan pates, mousse and for thickening soups. I imagine it's the mixture of the goodness I'm digesting from this plant combined with a personal preference for its softening qualities that I enjoy.
(Image above: Chocolate panna cotta set with Irish moss, recipe by Rachel Lambert)
Though Irish Moss - also known as Carrageen, Carragheen or Carrageen Moss - is a term that is sometimes used to describe a couple of different seaweed species, sometimes more. I do it myself when I teach my seaweed foraging courses, I group together the species Chondrus crispus and Mastocarpus stellatus in order to help people to find 'the seaweed(s) that sets panna cottas'. It also helps people recognise the similarities (as well as differences) between these seaweeds. It can seem a little complicated, though basically I'm attempting to simplify things!
Both Chondrus crispus and Mastocarpus stellatus have natural setting and thickening qualities when cooked. Best picked in Spring, it could be that picking these weeds at different times of year effects its abilities to set things, though that's a different story, for another time.
Which seaweed is the best one for setting panna cotta?
According to Annie Dawe of Ballyandreen Bay in Ireland who apparently picked and sold the very best carrageen in times gone by, the superior variety is Chondrus crispus and the slightly inferior one: Mastocarpus stellatus.* Now as much as I respect old knowledge and traditions I decided I wanted to find out for myself. After all, the 'best' could be referring to numerous excellent qualities of either of these seaweeds (more on that another time, or do look at my Carrageen Cough Syrup recipe).
So, last Spring for a seaweed foraging course I made two identical chocolate panna cottas, one was set with Chondrus crispus and the other with Mastocarpus stellatus. I used exactly the same amount of carrageen in both, though perhaps one was a little more chocolaty!
(Left: Mastocarpus stellatata. Right: Chondrus crispus)
On my seaweed courses I teach how to identify both of these seaweeds and also encourage people not to worry about it as both set panna cottas and other such delights. Though which one creates a better set?
Well, with a group of about a dozen course participants, I passed around the panna cottas in turn, introducing each one separately according to the seaweed I had used. Both panna cottas were polished off and the decision was unanimous! There was some preference for one texture over the other as each did have a very slightly different set texture (and yes I had mistakenly made one more chocolaty!), though we agreed that both set perfectly.
So there you have it, the simplest, most rewarding answer: Chondrus crispus and Mastocarpus stellatus both set panna cottas perfectly. I have a lovely Carrageen and White Chocolate Panna Cotta recipe in my Seaweed Foraging Book and you can find carrageen in Health Food stores, at online seaweed suppliers, or you could pick your own and I can show you how to harvest sustainably, where to find and how to identify either of these seaweeds on one of my seaweed courses.
(White Chocolate Panna Cotta from Rachel Lambert's book: Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly), you can buy the book here.
*The story of Annie Dawe's best carrageen came from Prannie Rhatigan's book: Irish Seaweed Kitchen, a book full of recipes, stories and facts about some of our best edible seaweeds.
I've always loved the taste of Carrageen seaweed, I find it so comforting and soothing, which is just what you need when you're feeling under the weather - a nourishing, easily digestible, tasty food or drink. Maybe it's the 14% Irish in me (see note below), or maybe it's just that carrageen is delicious and good for you.
Coughs and colds can be an inevitable part of the winter (or any time of year in fact), and it is a time to be gentle with yourself (as gentle as the cooked texture of carrageen even) and get a kick-ass remedy that helps you slip through the day more easily.
This has definitely helped me in those times of need.
It has stopped my tickling cough, and incessant cough, you know the type I mean?
Oh by the way, Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus or Mastocarpus stellatus) is another name for Carrageen and the tradition of using this seaweed in Ireland continues to this day, including for coughs, colds and sore throats. This syrup recipe isn't actually a syrup, you can sweeten it of course, though its thick, syrupy texture comes from the natural thickener created by cooking carrageen.
All you need to make this is a few simple ingredients and choose your preferred flavourings. For example, you could use;
Though I like this kick-ass version with;
- Black pepper corns
- Root ginger
You could look up the benefits of some of these ingredients and make your own choice (or just look in your cupboard and see what you have to hand). Carrageen is one of the seaweeds I cover on my seaweed foraging courses and give you lots of info of how to identify it, seasons to pick and all the nutritional benefits.
I also talk through the process of drying seaweeds and include additional recipes for carrageen in my seaweeed foraging book and offer a fab Carrageen panna cotta recipe in my first book; Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. All information that is available to you if you'd like to access it.
Back to the recipe...
Here it is, simple, nourishing and very soothing for a cough, cold or a sore throat.
Carrageen Cough and Cold Syrup
This recipe makes enough for about 4-8 cups worth (depending on the size of your mug or cup). It will keep for up to a week and you can heat a mug at a time to sip through the day. I have 1-2 mugs a day, depending on how severe my cough is and how much relief my body is craving.
- 1200 ml water
- 50 g dried carrageen (Mastocarpus stellatus or Chondrus crispus)
- 2 tsp tumeric powder
- 2.5 cm chunk of root ginger (chopped)
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- Honey to taste.
Place the carrageen seaweed in a suitably sized saucepan and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Add the other ingredients, except the honey, bring to the boil before lowering the heat and simmering for 15 minutes. The seaweed will break down into smaller pieces and the result for a be a thick, syrup like liquid. Sieve and put the syrup aside to cool. Heat as and when needed, adding honey to taste, keeping the remainder in the fridge for up to a week, covered.
Somethings are worth closing your eyes to drink; think of the sea, get cosy and sip slowly. This is in part because this drink wins in taste, though not for looks. Close your eyes, enjoy, get better and drink.
(Mug of carrageen cough and could flavour, sweetened with honey)
Carrageen, Carrageenan, Irish Moss, Chondrus Crispus, Mastocarpus stellatus
I'm back on the Isles of Scilly, having survived the boat crossing once again (thank goodness my strategy is still working) and am now above board again and enjoying these beautiful islands again. It's Walk Scilly Festival time.
Having led an enthusiastic group of Scilly walkers (not to be taken literally, in the funny sense of the word), I deliver the group to my collaborator for this event; Euan Rodger, the owner and chef at Tanglewood Kitchen (at the back of the Post Office). I love working with Euan - he pre-prepares delicious dishes such as a rich, creamy sauce, and quickly cooks up fish while salivating foragers watch. I deliver a basket of wild ingredients that we've collected on the walk and Euan improvises (okay, we have a vague plan beforehand) and voila. On this autumnal gathering, the basket contains wild fennel seeds, alexander seeds and yarrow leaves to finish off his dish. Wooden forks are handed round and well all dive in. Not a morsel is left, and I think that says more than words.