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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Posts Tagged ‘The Farm-to-Table Family

Irish Moss Blanc Mange and Panna Cotta with Agar-Agar: Vegan Seaweed Says Move Over, Gelatin!

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Coconut milk panna cotta, congealed with agar-agar instead of Knox gelatin. (From Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking")

Coconut milk panna cotta, congealed with agar-agar instead of Knox gelatin. (From Heidi Swanson’s “Super Natural Cooking,” recipe ran with my Portland Press-Herald column here.)

As longtime readers of this blog will remember, luscious Italian panna cotta is one of my favorite desserts. I guess that reveals I’m not much of a baker, but I just love how unflavored gelatin coaxes this creamy dessert into an addictive, jiggly texture upon chilling. Still, years ago, when I posted my panna cotta recipe, a vegetarian friend had asked about a suitable non-animal substitute for gelatin that’s since haunted me. She wondered if pectin would work. I found a packet of seaweed-derived agar-agar at an Asian market about that time, but never used it. Its package indicated it would congeal juicy, sugary desserts just like gelatin.

Then I heard about a new (well actually very old-time) technique for congealing milk puddings at this revelatory, delicious seaweed cooking class I took through UMaine Extension in February. Several women in the class waxed nostalgic about how their Maine grandmothers gathered washed-up Irish moss seaweed on the coast to boil into the congealed dessert blancmange. Their enthusiasm inspired my latest The Farm-to-Table Family column for the Portland Press-Herald: “Who Needs Boxed Jell-O When Maine Seaweed Abounds?” (Heidi Swanson’s coconut milk panna cotta recipe is excerpted there.) In that article, I promised to give readers an Irish moss blanc-mange recipe on my blog. Here it is below the picture:

Red algae Irish moss seaweed is boiled with milk in lieu of animal gelatin to make the old-fashioned pudding, blanc mange. It thrives on the Maine coast and is the source of the ubiquitous food additive carrageenan, long extracted here at a plant in Rockland.

Red algae Irish moss seaweed is boiled with milk in lieu of animal gelatin to make the old-fashioned pudding, blanc mange. It thrives on the Maine coast and is the source of the ubiquitous food additive carrageenan, long extracted here at a plant in Rockland. (Image from Wikipedia)

Irish Moss Blanc-Mange Dessert Pudding

     This recipe come from Prannie Rhatigan’s esteemed “Irish Seaweed Kitchen” cookbook. Maine seaweed harvester Kelly Roth of VitaminSea in Buxton told me, “It’s pretty much our bible,” with wide-ranging recipes for incorporating seaweed into quotidian cuisine, from mashed potatoes to pot roast. Rhatigan’s recipe comes from the “hallowed kitchens” of the Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland. Hence the the metric system measurements. You can order dried Maine Irish moss from the websites of local harvesters Maine Coast Sea Vegetables out of Franklin, or VitaminSea from Buxton.

Serves 6

3.5 to 4.5 grams Irish (carrageen) moss, depending on variety (Kelly Roth recommends using the dried seaweed, soaked in fresh water to remove ocean salt)

1 1/2 pints (850ml) milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean pod

1 1/2 ounce (50g) sugar

1 egg, separated

1. Soak the carrageen (Irish moss) in cold water for 10 minutes, then remove and put in saucepan with milk and a vanilla pod, if using.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 15 minutes, semi-covered, taking care that it does not boil over.

3. The carrageen (Irish moss) will now be swollen and exuding jelly.

4. Pour through a strainer into a mixing bowl.

5. Rub the jelly through a strainer and beat it into the milk with the sugar, egg yolk and vanilla essence, if using.

6. Whisky egg white stiffly and fold it gently into the mixture; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Transfer to serving bowl.

7. Serve chilled with a fruit compote (strawberry-rhubarb would be ideal when the season comes late this spring), or a sweet sauce. I served the above coconut milk panna cotta with my Maine wild blueberry-maple syrup preserves.

Found at health food stores and Asian markets, seaweed-derived agar-agar is a good vegan substitute for gelatin.

Found at health food stores and Asian markets, seaweed-derived agar-agar is a good vegan substitute for gelatin.

Heidi Swanson’s Coconut Milk Panna Cotta congeals with seaweed-dervived (from a red algae source similar to Irish moss) agar-agar that I found at my local natural foods store. Use this if you don’t have access to Irish moss. Japanese native, Hiroko Meserve, a mom here in Brunswick, told me she uses agar-agar (called kanten in Japanese) to gel fresh grapefruit juice desserts and also to make the popular Japanese red bean paste sweet, yokan. Agar-agar also gels the popular Chinese almond milk (technically made with apricot kernel, traditionally) pudding know as annin tofu. It masquerades as tofu, when cut into white cubes before serving.

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We all know kids love the color and taste of Jell-O. It’s inspiring to discover they love seaweed just as much, and desserts congealed with agar-agar instead of gelatin. I found this out when I went into my son’s preschool last week to read this “Aquaculture for ME” book put out by the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom program. Theo is now obsessed with this book and requests it most nights at bedtime. This program is funded by those Maine agriculture license plates we are proud to sport on our Subaru–get yours today!

I brought the preschoolers a snack of blueberry-kelp smoothies (made with dried Maine kelp I soaked and rinsed of salt) and 100 percent fruit juice vegan Jell-O, thickened with only agar-agar (follow the easy instructions on the package). They particularly gobbled the later up.

100 percent fruit juice "Jell-O," congealed with seaweed-derived agar-agar. The kids loved it!

100 percent fruit juice “Jell-O,” congealed with seaweed-derived agar-agar. The kids loved it!

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Chilled Mussels on the Half-Shell from David Tanis

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Chilled Mussels on the Half-Shell, from David Tanis's book, One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal."

Chilled Mussels on the Half-Shell, from David Tanis’s book, One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal.”

I’ve almost forgotten how to blog. It’s a muscle, like any other, that’s best exercised frequently. In lieu of blogging, I’ve been busy penning “The Farm-to-Table Family” column weekly for the Portland Press-Herald’s new Sunday food and sustainability SOURCE section. Now, I just need to learn how to dash off those columns as quickly as I once did midnight blog posts.

Recipe-wise, the cookbooks I’ve found most inspiring of late are those of former Chez Panisse chef, David Tanis. You might know him from his excellent weekly New York Times’s “City Kitchen” column. The man has impeccable taste. I’m particularly inspired by everything in his latest book, One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal, which I’m long-overdue to return to the library. I can’t let it go.

Before I do, I want to encourage you to try his “Mussels on the Half-Shell” (page 73). I skipped the breadcrumbed-hot version in favor of cold mussels on the half-shell with a tarragon-vinaigrette sauce drizzled atop. They’d make for dramatic presentation at your next cocktail party, or just a simple summer meal to enjoy alone. “Mussels on the Half-Shell” doesn’t mean they’re raw–you steam them open first in olive oil, then chill. You can’t go wrong. Especially when you find wild mussels from Stonington at Justin’s Seafood in Hallowell for only 99 cents a pound. I got three pounds a few weeks ago. Sure, one of those pounds had perished by the time I got them home, but I didn’t worry since they were so cheap. The remaining two pounds were sweet and delicious. Note to self: keep the bag open enough so mussels can breathe. The guy at the counter said wild mussels are sweeter. Is that true? They were small and more beige than orange.

We also enjoyed a smidge of seared Atlantic yellow tail tuna tataki, with avocado, black sesame, scallions and cilantro, with a soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, Korean gochujang, maple syrup and ume plum vinegar dressing. Seafood delight!

Justin's also had pretty local yellowtail tuna. I made a small sushi-grade piece into seared tataki, with avocado, cilantro, scallions and black sesame seeds.

Justin’s also had pretty local yellowtail tuna. I made a small sushi-grade piece into seared tataki, with avocado, cilantro, scallions and black sesame seeds.

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