In these modern days of artificial everything
and yogurt in tubes
, eating seaweed
other than in sushi
comes off as weird enough.
The Welsh, however, have taken it a step stranger and created laver sauce and laver bread. But wait, you say - that's not that weird. So they're cooking with seaweed - so what. Sure. But then they serve you some laver bread and it turns out to be shiny green seaweed boiled for five hours until it forms a gelatinous puree, mixed with oatmeal, shaped into small cakes, and fried with bacon fat.
I love the Welsh.
Laver sauce is begun similarly to laver bread, but instead of going the firm-it-up-with-oats route, it strikes out for tasty-citrus territory. It's supposed to be good with mutton or with shellfish, especially lobster. In the 1800s, laver sauce was traditionally served with mutton; one website said that "this is especially good with the lamb from the salt-grass meadows of the South Wales coast." It can, despite all that, certainly be served in vegetarian dishes as well: experiment!
Because it consists solely of one base ingredient and a few flavorings, this is one of those recipes where you just muck around with amounts until you like the taste. I suggest assembling:
Four ounces of laver, cut up to fit your saucepan
The juice of one orange, or a half-cup or so of orange juice
One tablespoon of butter
A few tablespoons of cream
A quarter-cup of mutton or lamb stock
A word about ingredients
This recipe can be easily modified for vegetarian or vegan needs. The butter can easily be margarine. Traditional recipes often call for either stock or cream; you could use soy milk, or if you are lucky enough to live in the United Kingdom and have access to it, soya cream. I haven't found a vegan form of cream in the United States; I don't know about other countries. You could also use vegetable stock instead, either in place of the meat stock or in place of both that and the cream. You may even find that it tastes best with just laver, orange juice, and vegetable stock.
Here in Oakland, all I have to do is go to Oakland's Chinatown and walk into a grocery store to find laver. My favorite store has half an entire aisle of different kinds of seaweed - kombu in bags, kombu in bulk, flat sheets of nori for sushi, seasoned nori for snacking, twisty crunchy wakame, blocks of scrunched-up laver, flat sheets of Korean-style seasoned laver with oil and salt.... The kind that you want for cooking will be the large bags of dark masses of laver, not the flat crunchy Korean-style sheets. If you can find it in a store like that or possibly (and often more expensively) at a health-food store near you, go for it; it can also be found online at places like loveseaweed.com, laverbread.org, and wales-direct.com.
I frequently buy big bags of this stuff, cut some of it off with scissors, put it in a frying pan with a little olive oil and vegetable broth, and cook it like spinach. Yum. It's very good for cholesterol that way too, since both laver and olive oil lower cholesterol. I would suggest cutting it apart in the same way for this dish; I think it's much the easiest way to go if you're using less than a bag of laver.
Cover the laver with water and boil it, adding water as necessary and boiling as long as necessary until the laver gives up the ghost and dissolves into the aforementioned gelatinous gloop.
Taste it and muse on how you'd like it to be different. Brighter? Sweeter? Add some orange juice. Creamier? More savory? Add cream/soy milk or stock.
Continue tasting and adjusting until it's perfect. Don't burn your tongue!
The speedier version
Modern recipes, geared toward people who don't have a way to boil anything for five hours due to schedule constraints or a lack of money for the fuel bills, offer an alternative form of laver sauce:
Melt one tablespoon of butter or margarine in a saucepan (and personally I think it would also be good using olive oil).
Add your laver and saute until soft and heated through.
Add the juice of one orange (one recipe specified a Seville orange) and as much of your favorite stock as is needed to achieve a saucy consistency.
Finish with a little ground pepper to taste, and serve over Welsh mutton - or potatoes - or, in fact, whatever you like.
A few resources
http://www.takeourword.com/Issue086.html offers a "Spotlight on Japanese words in English," which takes a little side stroll into laver land even though "laver" is actually Latin;
www.bnpwales.org.uk/recipies.html (sic) offers a variety of interesting traditional Welsh recipes;
www.laverbread.org is a Welsh source of laver, also known there as laverbread (as opposed to the laver bread mentioned above) and sea lettuce. Their site also offers a number of interesting recipes using laver.