Cooking with seaweed instead of tin foil 

I’m on a mission to manage without tin foil when cooking, roasting and baking. Have you every thought about what goes into that shiny roll of foil paper? 

Firstly, you have to strip mine the earth for bauxite rock, for its aluminium ore. The main countries that bauxite comes from are Australia, China, Brazil, India and Guinea but many other tropical countries also produce some bauxite. Strip mining is necessary as bauxite is close to the earths surface and involves disturbance of relatively large land areas, which can include natural and critical habitats, leading to desertification and species loss. It often also often has a huge impact on the indigenous peoples. 

Mined bauxite ore is then refined into alumina, which is then smelted into aluminium. Approximately four tonnes of bauxite are required to refine two tonnes of alumina, which in turn are smelted to make one tonne of aluminium metal. 

The refining process uses sodium hydroxide, under pressure, and creates a highly alkaline residue that is stored in landfill sites and highly alkaline slurry and water run-off which has to be managed to avoid contaminating the environment and waterways. The smelting process generates solid waste, again destined for landfill, and also, when the chimneys are renewed (every 5-7 years), a heap of hazardous waste due to fluoride, cyanide and reactive metal. 

Part of the process of extraction involves electrolysis – hugely energy demanding of electricity. The smelting process, where high temperatures are required to melt the aluminium, use large amounts of fossil fuels with concomitant emissions. 

The aluminium is eventually rolled out to make your baking foil. Sprayed with lubricant as it goes through the rollers (food grade lubricant we’re told) and then heated to 340 °C (644 °F) for 12 hours. That’s quite a fuel bill! 

However, so far I’ve managed without it for over a year now, thanks to seaweed. 

The thing it took me a while to work out was how to roast a joint of meat without aluminium foil. Not that I eat it that often, I also have an aversion to supermarket meat – but that’s another story! Occasionally, for family gatherings we’ll sit down to a traditional roast leg of lamb. Without any covering the meat has a tendency to burn. Here’s where the seaweed comes in. I do this two different ways. 

Method One

This is best if you have a thick coating of fat on your joint. If not using fresh seaweed (oarweed is best) put 4 lengths of dried oarweed into a large bowl with plenty of water to reconstitute. Preheat the oven to 230C. Put the joint into a roomy roasting dish and rub olive oil over the exposed parts. Now add your seasoning. My favourites are harissa powder, a mix of porcini and dulse powders with salt, black pepper and occasionally a little cayenne. Of course garlic and rosemary are traditional but powdered yarrow and mugwort bring a special twist to it. Anyway, once you have a good crust of powdered sticking to the oil without any gaps, slide it into the centre of the hot oven for 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes remove it from the oven and let the dish cool. Turn the over down to 150C and prep some veg while your waiting. After about 15 minutes it is cool enough to handle. Pat the excess water off your seaweed and bandage up the joint being sure to cover all the exposed parts including the ends. 

Now return to the oven and cook at 150C for the remainder of the time. (I allow 20 minutes per 500 grams). Then, when a skewer inserted runs clear, remove from the oven and allow the meat to rest. I like to serve it on a wooden carving board with the seaweed still around it. 

As well as the flavour imparted by the seaweed and the protection from heat, you also get a good deal of vitamins, minerals and the option of seaweed crisps as a side dish!

Method Two

This suits a joint that has little fat on it. For these I use a clay pot. Sometimes called Tuscan ovens, these have a deep clay base (glazed on the inside only) and a high fitted unglazed lid. They require soaking in water before use and you put them into a cold oven. 
Season your joint lightly and wrap it with seaweed. Grease the glazed bottom pot and place the wrapped joint inside. Put on the lid. If it doesn’t fit well, a little raw dough can be used to seal it. 

Put the dish into the centre of an oven and switch it on to 180C. Let the joint roast for 3 to 4 hours depending on its size. This makes an incredibly tender, melt in your mouth dish. 
If preferred the lid can be taken off for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking to crisp up the seaweed and the top. However, for a really crisp crust use method one. 


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