Ben Lustbader of Giant Credit: Julia Thiel

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Dulse, a type of seaweed that grows in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is lauded as a health food that, according to some, tastes remarkably similar to bacon. Chef Ben Lustbader of Giant, challenged by Publican Anker‘s A.J. Walker to create a dish with the seaweed, was skeptical. “People call it the bacon of the sea,” he says. “I don’t really think it tastes a whole lot like bacon. One of my cooks described the flavor as malty, which seemed a little more on point to me.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like the flavor, though. “It’s actually kind of nice. It has a minerality, a salinity . . . it definitely tastes of the sea,” he says. The dulse that Lustbader bought was dried, and he experimented both with rehydrating it—which didn’t work very well (“the texture gets kind of gross”)—and frying it, which did.

Seaweed is most often associated with Asian cuisine, but Lustbader did a little research and found that dulse is also popular in northern Europe—particularly Ireland and Wales, where it’s often incorporated into soda bread. Since the chefs at Giant make their own sourdough bread daily, sourdough with dulse seemed like a natural fit. In addition to the fried dulse, Lustbader folded some typically Asian ingredients into the dough: Thai bird chiles, Thai basil, and lemon zest.

DulseCredit: Julia Thiel

To go on the bread, Lustbader cured salmon and made cream cheese with ingredients designed to reflect the flavors he’d used in the sourdough. He rubbed the salmon down with Hendrick’s Gin and layered Thai basil, lemon peel, and fennel seed into the cure of salt and sugar. For the cream cheese, he says, “I threw in togarashi and took some scallions and seared the crap out of them on the plancha until they blackened, then chopped them up and put them in.” After spreading cream cheese on the sliced bread, Lustbader added a few sliced cucumbers, then folded thinly sliced cured salmon on top, sprinkling the whole thing with sesame seeds, scallions, Thai basil, and pieces of fried dulse.

The seaweed flavor in the finished product is subtle, Lustbader says. “It definitely adds that little bit of minerality, but as far as oceanic flavors are concerned it’s not overwhelming in any way.” And he still doesn’t understand the bacon comparison, he says. “You’re not going to fool anyone by subbing it for bacon.”

Dulse sourdough bread
Dulse sourdough breadCredit: Julia Thiel

Who’s next:

Lustbader has challenged Emily Stewart, executive chef at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, to create a dish with umeboshi, or pickled ume fruits traditional in Japan.

Dulse sourdough bread

325 g water
285 g bread flour
610 g leftover starter

Bread recipe:
555 g bread flour
370 g whole wheat flour
748 g water (85 deg F)
200 g starter
25 g salt

100 g fried dulse
20 g slivered fresh Thai bird chilie
50 g chopped Thai basil
30 g lemon zest

To make the bread:
Combine 200 g of the starter with 748 g water and a combined 925 g flour. Combine in a mixer on low speed until just incorporated. Cover and let rest for 45 mins. Add salt and mix on medium, incorporating more water if necessary until gluten is sufficiently developed. Remove from bowl and place in a plastic container, folding the sides in while incorporating fried dulse, Thai bird chiles, Thai basil, and lemon zest. Repeat the folding every 45 mins, a total of four additional times. Remove from container. Portion into 860 g loaves (you will have a little excess). Preshape and rest for 25 minutes. Do a final shaping and place in floured baskets and refrigerate overnight. Score and bake in a preheated cast-iron combo cooker at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake for an 18 additional minutes. Allow to rest. Slice. Top with scallion-togarashi cream cheese and cured salmon. Eat.

Cured salmon

Sugar: 126 g
Light brown sugar: 213 g
Salt: 263 g
Dried dill: 10 g
Celery seed: 9 g
Fennel seed: 25 g
Black peppercorn: 25 g
Juniper berries: 15 g
Lemon peels: 25 g
Fresh Thai basil: 18 g
Hendrick’s Gin: a couple splashes

To cure salmon:
Clean and remove pin bones from one side of salmon. Drizzle some Hendrick’s Gin and rub evenly on the flesh. Stretch plastic wrap across counter a bit longer than two times the length of the salmon fillet. Sprinkle cure down liberally on the plastic wrap, scattering half the lemon peel and Thai basil. Place the salmon on the cure and then cover the top half with more cure. Scatter the second half of lemon peel and Thai basil. Now fold the plastic wrap over the salmon, enclosing the salmon in an envelope of plastic. Tuck in the edges and wrap in a second layer of plastic to keep the cure securely inside. Weigh the salmon down with a jug or can and refrigerate. Flip over every 24 hours until it feels firm to the touch, a total of two or three days. Rinse off remaining cure. Store in the fridge wrapped in parchment or plastic.

Scallion-togarashi cream cheese

Cream cheese: 226 g
Seared scallions: 72 g
Togarashi: 8 g
White soy: 14 g
Lemon zest: 8 g
Lemon juice: 20 g

To make the cream cheese:
Sear scallions in a very hot cast-iron pan until black. Season with a little salt. Allow to cool. Chop and fold into cream cheese along with togarashi, white soy, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

To assemble:
Slice dulse bread and toast. Schmear the bread with togarashi cream cheese. Slice cucumbers, marinate with lemon juice and EVOO, shingle on the toast. Slice the cured salmon and place on top of cucumbers. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, scallion, torn Thai basil, and fried dulse. Eat.