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4 May 2012

Dulse-seaweed panna cotta with caramel sauce marine

Mixed dried seaweed
Have you ever taste tested a bunch of seaweeds? Probably when you were a kid at the sea shore hands deep in sand and slimy grassy things you attempted to eat them, but this wasn't one of those situations.
If you are regular to this blog you might remember me entering the "Science, Art et Cuisine" competition the past years.
With this year the competition changed organisational team, being now hosted in Nantes by the guys of the "Pôle Alimentation et Nutrion en Pays de la Loire" aka PONAN, and it is now called simply "Science et Cuisine".

The topic of the competition changes from year to year, for instance on 2011 the topic chosen was sugars and I entered my "Around the Pho" creation. This year instead, the topic was seaweeds.
We were asked to prepare two recipes: an appetizer including DIY crispy seaweeds and a dish based on a seaweed infusion, also DIY naturally.

Naturally we weren't asked to go foraging for seaweeds on some sea-shore of our choice (though it could be a good occasion to visit Ireland for instance), but the good growers of the Northern French coast had provided us with a nice range of samples including:

  • Nori: Porphyra sp. (brown seaweed) 
  • Wakame: Undaria pinnatifida (green seaweed) 
  • Dulse: Palmaria palmata (red seaweed) 
  • Sea Spaghetti: Himanthalia elongata (brown seaweed) 
  • Irish/Carrageen moss: Chondrus crispus (red seaweed) 
  • Sea Lettuce: Ulva sp. (green seaweed) 
  • Samphire (green seaweed)

Most of the specimens were dried, except for the Wakame and Sea lettuce that were fresh under coarse salt and the Samphire that was in brine.

Seaweeds are a wealthy source of savory compounds, usually divided into three families (green, red and brown), they share a similar briny scent in different nuances and strength. Most of their "yumminess" actually comes from the natural MSG that they contain and that makes Japanese Dashi so delicious. Notable are also the highly unsaturated fatty acids that give them green-tea like notes.

In drying, many of these chemicals crystallize onto the seaweed surface forming that grayish patina that often characterize their appearance. For this reason, I do prefer dried seaweeds over fresh one; with many of the flavorful compounds easy to access they are also easier to dose.
Almost all of the seaweeds in my possession, had a notable briny scent and prominent flavour note when introduced in the mouth. The wakame and sea spaghetti were quite salty but delicate in their notes of sea water. The dulse instead was rather weak on the surface flavour.

The most part of seaweeds is actually constituted by a thin layer of cells often a single cell thick (like the sea lettuce) hence the dried ones, rarely have strong flavours in them that isn't on their surface already. An exception to this, in the samples I had, were the wakame, sea spaghetti and the dulse.
Both the wakame and sea spaghetti had, to the chew, a very pleasant chocolaty-licorice taste. The dulse instead was completely another story.
As the name suggests, dulse seaweed is sweet and quite definitely so. It has a sweet fruity and meaty flavour that comes out only by chewing and sucking on it.
The Irish moss is also notable for its clean and distinct briny flavor reminiscent of shellfish.

The fresh under-salt specimens (sea lettuce and nori) were virtually bland and tasteless; they were also the thinnest of the two so no wonder.

I have decided to focus my research on the Dulse and Irish moss making each a central star of one of the recipes.
Will dedicate this post to the first one.

When I got the seaweed samples I was just back from my visit to Turin. There I met a chef friend of mine and we had an amazing time in the Langhe area visiting some of his favorite restaurants and walking under the stars in the frosted countryside (waiting for the restaurants to open). The dishes that mostly struck my culinary imagination were the amazing panna-cotta I had.
Rich in texture, barely held together by gelatin and so rich and clean in flavour to rightfully deserve the name of "panna" (cream).

With these experience fresh in mind at the first taste of the Dulse seaweed, I decided to create a panna-cotta with it.
Dulse-seaweed Panna-Cotta with Briny caramel sauce
To preserve the cleanness of the original dish, I used a straightforward infusion of dulse in cream and gelatin for the panna-cotta. A plus of using dried seaweed is that when infusing in cream it will absorb some of the water in it and raise the fat content of the liquid part. At the end I had to dilute the infusion a bit to tone down its flavour but I was nevertheless happy about the richness in the final products (roughly 40% of net fat content).

For the sauce I chose the best simplest sauce that can go with a panna-cotta: caramel sauce. Naturally it couldn't be just that right? Instead of using bare water to dilute the caramel I chose to use a seaweed infusion.
The seaweeds that more reminded me of caramel were the wakame and the sea spaghetti so I decided to base the sauce on a wakame infusion. The sea spaghetti, once crystallised, were served as garnishes alongside some orange zests.

And now here you are my:
Dulse-seaweed panna cotta with caramel sauce marine

Ingredients (serve 3 people as appetizer):

Panna cotta mixture:
  • 100g + 1 tablespoon of cream, divided
  • 15g dried dulse seaweed, minced
  • Cream (half the weight of the final infusion)
  • Sugar, to taste
  • Gelatin (1.5% the weight of the final infusion)

Caramel sauce:
  • 10g dried wakame, minced
  • 100g water

     For each 50g of wakame infusion:
  • 15g sugar
  • 2g dried sea spaghetti, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Chinese rice wine
  • Xanthan gum (0.2% of the sauce final weight)

  • Crystallised Orange zests
  • Crystalised sea spaghetti

Bring 100g of cream to the simmer and pour it over the minced dulse; cover with cling film and let infuse at room temperature for 12h.
Similarly bring 100g of water to a boil and pour it onto the minced wakame in a bowl; cover with clingfilm and let infuse for 12h in a fresh environment.

Filter the cream infusion through a fine mesh sieve pressing well onto the seaweeds. Chop a little more the solids and mix them with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream. Bring the whole to a simmer and strain through the sieve again onto the first infusion.
Weigh the cream infusion and prepare half (to 2/3rd) its weight in fresh cream. Mix the fresh cream with the infused one and season with sugar to taste.

Weigh the diluted cream infusion and prepare 1.5% this weight in gelatin. Let the gelatin hydrate in cold water for 10-15 minutes. At this point the gelatin should be nice and soft, melt it with a little of the cream mixture over medium fire and mix it into the rest of the cream infusion. Pour the gelatinised cream into 3 molds, cover with clingfilm and let harden in the fridge for a few hours.

For the caramel sauce, bring to a dark-amber caramel the sugar over medium fire. At this point add the minced sea spaghetti and stir. Take the saucepan out of the fire and plunge its bottom into cold water for a moment and pour the caramel onto a silicone mat or baking paper to let it cool down and harden.
Break the hardened seaweed caramel and powder it in a spice grinder or little food processor; reserve in an air-tight container.

Filter de wakame infusion through a fine sieve pressing well on the solids. Add the powdered caramel to the strained infusion and stir over medium-low fire until all the caramel will have melted, not more. Strain immediately and let it cool down.
Add the Chinese rice wine to the caramel sauce and weigh it. Prepare 0.2% of this weight in xanthan gum and mix it into the sauce using a little immersion blender or a milk foamer. Cover with cling film and let rest until all the bubbles will have subsided.

To crystallize the sea spaghetti, plunge them briefly into cold water and pat them dry. Transfer them into a pot with some blond caramel and let cook for a few seconds before transferring them onto baking paper to set.
Do the same for the orange zests.

To serve, unmold the panna-cottas into the serving dishes, spoon some of the sauce around and decorate with the crystallised zests and seaweed.


  1. Wow Ale your panna cotta looks divine! So gorgeously glossy and I can't even begin to imagine how sweet and delicious it was!

  2. Hello:

    This is my first time on your site.

    Your recipe intriques me.

    Since this is a.. shall I say a savoury dish, would you serve this a an appetizer?

    Also you mentioned msg.

    Is this the same type they use in chinese recipes and as a preservative?

    I cannot have msg as it gives me migraines.

    Thank you for sharing
    Have a Joyful Day

    1. Hi Charlie,
      Glad to see you here!
      Yes, this is indeed an appetizer or may be part of a multiple courses menu as a sort of amuse-bouche.
      The MSG contained in seaweeds (and in Parmesan, in tomatoes, fish sauce, soy sauce etc) is indeed the same compound they use in Chinese cuisine. I do believe though that also here, the answer relies on the quantities. MSG is quite potent and only few grains are enough to flavor a dish, so probably you should try eating rehydrated seaweeds (as in salads form) and see if they affect you.
      I hope this answer clarifies your doubts :)

  3. That is beautifully presented dessert! I'm waiting for the day I can achieve similar perfection...have you ever thought of becoming a pastry chef? Because that panna cotta belongs in a restaurant.

  4. I am featuring this post in today's Friday Food Fetish roundup (with a link-back and attribution), but please let me know if you have any objections. It's a pleasure to be following your creations…

  5. So proud of you .. this is beyond amazing.

    I honestly never knew there were so many types of edible seaweed! and the colors are just beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing with us A. !