Dulse is a north coast tradition which evokes childhood memories

Mary Ann with her dulse and Yellow man at the Lammas Fair. Pic Steven mcauley
Mary Ann with her dulse and Yellow man at the Lammas Fair. Pic Steven mcauley

The north coast of Northern Ireland has been synonymous with seaweed for generations – the iconic song associated with the Aul Lammas Fair says “You can treat your Mary Ann to some dulse and yellowman, at the aul lammas fair in Ballycastle Oh” .

Traditionally the seaweed was collected on the beach and dried on the corrugated tin rooves of cottages that dotted the coastline. Today the process is a much more sanitary affair, with the harvest being treated and dried under controlled conditions.

Kate Burns, a marine biologist, has been growing and harvesting kelp off the coast of Rathlin Island since 2012. Her family are fourth generation fishermen and this joint wealth of experience has resulted in a world renowned business and product.

In 2014 when a tsunami destroyed Japan’s nuclear reactor in Fukushima, sales of seaweed plummeted there because of fears of contamination. Kate’s company, Islander Kelp was able to export to the country and open up a completely new market for them at the same time.

The cold waters off the coast of Rathlin, with their strong, cleansing tides, are ideal for producing some of the best seaweed on the planet. They keep the kelp on ropes making their variation consistent and more sustainable than wild harvesting.

These large dark green ribbons of seaweed aren’t dried in the traditional way, rather they’re cut into noodles and packed or made into a pesto. Despite its origin, kelp is very low in salt and the pesto is absolutely delicious and healthy to boot.

This week Kate told me that they’d just exported half a tonne of their latest harvest to Italy where it was going to be made into a vegetarian salami.

While seaweed is a great way of adding flavour to vegetable dishes or as an accompaniment to fish, it also goes surprisingly well with lamb.

The French often press anchovy into the flesh of a leg of lamb for roasting and it has a beautiful savoury note. On the same vein, grill some lamb chops and toss freshly boiled potatoes into some kelp pesto.

Or on a similar note, Ruaridh Morrison produces a smoked dulse in Ballycastle at his North Coast Smokehouse business.

I use this to season the lamb instead of salt and then toss some crushed potatoes with the smoked dulse, a good knob of butter and some scallions – earth and sea at its best.

I’ve always loved dulse – that iodine scented, chewy, purple hued leaf is something I still love to buy on the Promenade in Portstewart. Sadly it’s packaged in plastic now and not the candy stripe pink paper bags of my childhood!

My first recipe is for dulse and scallion soda bread – a golden crusted, traditional bread infused with one of the iconic and oldest products. Abernethy butter do a dulse variety now which would be ideal spread over slices of this baked treat, straight from the oven.

If you fancy having a go at making your own seaweed butter I’ve included a recipe that uses a white wine reduction.

It’s good on the bread or use it to top grilled fish or serve on mash or steamed potatoes.

Salty dulse seaweed and sweet, juicy local apples are perfect together.

My other recipe is for a slaw using these ingredients – ideal to serve with grilled oily fish or grilled or roast pork. Its been a terrific apple harvest this year – source from here rather than using insipid imported ones.