OLD SAYBROOK – After finishing a dish of scallops with cucumber and kelp salad and a white chocolate cream dessert topped with candied kelp at Liv’s Oyster Bar on Thursday night, Jessica Hampton was ready to try the Shark Bait cocktail – too infused with the sea-grown vegetable.
“It smells so refreshing,” she said before taking her first sip on the outdoor terrace. “As if you were on the shore.”
It was the popular restaurant’s first night to serve kelp-inspired recipes during a New England Kelp Harvest Week promotion that runs through May 1 and coincides with the annual harvest.
Nearly 50 locations across Connecticut and Rhode Island participate in the second annual event, sponsored by the Pawcatuck-based Sugar Kelp Cooperative and designed to introduce diners to the culinary, nutritional, environmental and economic aspects of seaweed and seaweed growth. industry around.
It may be an unusual ingredient for most diners, but within hours of opening Thursday afternoon, the growing crowd at Liv’s had no hesitation in ordering dishes from the special Kelp Week menu.
“Everyone is going for the scallop crudo,” which Hampton ordered, said Robert Macarelli, the restaurant’s operations manager. “I think we’ve already sold ten. Going into dinner, we’ll definitely be selling halibut,” which includes mash of mushrooms and kelp under seared fish and spring vegetables drizzled with a kelp vinaigrette.
The restaurant sourced its kelp through the cooperative, which supports industry growth by investing in small-scale kelp producers and creating market opportunities for them.
A longstanding tradition in Asian culture, sugar kelp is gaining popularity in the United States, according to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Division.
NOAA describes sweet kelp as a nutritious food rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, typically used in sushi, soups, salads and other products. When dried, a sweet-tasting white powder forms on the frond.
The growing season extends from late fall through winter, and harvesting occurs in late April, before the water gets too warm. A cold-water culture, it also offers shellfish farmers an off-season harvesting opportunity.
It is usually grown by attaching kelp spores to string wrapped around a length of PVC pipe.
Once the spores have grown into small plants, the twine is unwound from the pipe and tied to a long rope which is placed in natural sea water, including at a growing number of farms in Long Island Sound. Each frond can reach several centimeters wide and 12 feet long.
Recognizing that the brownish-green frond in its natural state may not be as appealing or appetizing, Liv’s executive chef has come up with recipes that blend it into dishes in more subtle ways.
“Kelp has an interesting and unique texture, so we’re trying to find different ways to incorporate it into dishes so you get the flavor, but it’s not super chewy,” chef David Mitchell said as he was working on plates in the busy kitchen. . “We want to make it a bit more appealing.”
Jonathan McGee, who handles event promotion for the Kelp Co-op, said the restaurant’s event is making good progress in familiarizing audiences with it.
“These restaurants, through their creative efforts and hard work, are the most important part of growing the kelp market,” McGee said. “And with that growth, we all benefit from all the locally grown sugar kelp gives us.”
Macarelli said kelp is a food that ticks a lot of boxes for diners and restaurants looking to expand their experience and offerings.
“He uses ingredients from our backyard,” he said. “Finding sustainable ingredients is a big thing these days and trying to find things that don’t impact the environment. It’s also about getting people to think outside the box and at the same time for us to offer accessible dishes.
The promotion will raise funds for the World Central Kitchen/WCK #ChefsForUkraine, the
CT Restaurant Association and RI Hospitality Association.
Additionally, the Yellow Farmhouse Education Center in Stonington will host students from New London, Norwalk and Stonington for virtual field trips to learn about kelp farming.
Virtual programs for the general public will focus on the culinary use of sweet kelp and its nutritional values, the creations of cocktails using sweet kelp and its historical significance in the region.
More information can be found at www.newenglandkelp.com and www.yellowfarmhouse.org.
Participating restaurants and other venues are: Oyster Club; The shipbuilder’s daughter; Whitecrest Restaurant; Essex; The whelk; Oko Westport; Vintage Colchester; Fjord fish market; Tavern on the State; Bywater; the Matunuck oyster bar; Kawa Ni; Stone Acres Farm Stand; Gift Memo; Malted barley; Continuous distillation; Sift; Fern Heads Coop; To mix together; Gray Sail Brewing; South End Restaurant Group; The Bakery at Bywater; The cottage; Healthy Planet; Closes the white door; Flanders fish market; Millwright’s; river tavern; Otto; Nanas Bakery; Olmo; Atlantic seafood; Liv’s Oyster Bar; shell and bone; South Lane Bistro; House of the Sea; artisan Honeycone ice cream; Nanas Bakery & Pizza – West; Taproot; that of Noah; Branch; Ash; Goldburgers and Surfridge Brewing Company East.