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I walk among the small boulders and across the summer carpet of bulging orangish-brown popweed. Oscar walks beside me sniffing, curious about what I’m doing. I hold a frond of papery sea lettuce up to the light, noting its freshness: not slimy, bright green, and light delicate texture. I bite off a small piece: perfect! Last night, the tide lowered a bit farther than usual due to a moon wobble. The higher tides, along with our local currents shed the sea lettuce from their attachments on rocks.
I find a large plate-sized frond and put it in my basket. I pick up and other and another. Oscar sniffs the basket of sea lettuce, expecting it might be edible. The bright green sea lettuce is a Chlorophyta (green seaweed) from the Ulva family and grows in sheltered areas and inlets around Southeast Alaska. Remember to harvest in sites away from contaminants like harbors, old dump sites or sewer outfalls.
Today, I’m harvesting sea lettuce, some small bladdered popweed, plus a bit of goose tongue for my latest fishcamp gastronomic experiment. I’m making furikake. Pronounced FOO-ree-kaw-kay, meaning “to sprinkle.” Furikake is a Japanese seasoning that’s sprinkled on sushi, noodle and rice dishes, vegetables, fish, and meats. I plan on making a big bowl of furikake to divide up and share. I’m excited about this because it’s that time of year when all the beach greens are ripe, flowers are blooming on the bushes, and there are spruce tips in my freezer.
I pick up a big frond and put it atop the pile of wet seaweed. “Gunalchéesh, sea lettuce,” I say. With my full basket, I head back along the beach to my seawall and up a set of stone stairs to my cabin.
What we know as modern furikake was invented in the 1920s by a pharmacist who wanted to add more calcium to Japanese diets, using powdered fish bones to season foods, adding needed vitamins and minerals. Eventually furikake developed with a wide range of flavorings. There’s wasabi furikake, nori flavor, salmon flake flavor, and even shisho (dried perilla leaves) flavor. Mine, I’ll call Southeast Alaska Furikake because I’m substituting plants I’ve harvested locally. I’ve already dried some ingredients: dried spruce tips, dried salmonberry leaves, dried thimbleberry blossoms, and dried goose tongue. If I had dried salmon flakes, I’d try that, but I have a package of traditional dried bonito flakes.
I’m following a basic furikake recipe I found online and tripling the ingredients. A basic recipe includes toasted sesame seeds, nori seaweed, salt, and sugar. I purchased a few suggested ingredients online, like wasabi powder and bonito flakes, though you can get them in specialty foods store or perhaps your local grocery store, depending on where you live.
I purchased a large jar of the white seeds, but the black sesame seeds were not available locally. Instead of using commercially processed nori seaweed, the kind used for sushi, I’m going to use sea lettuce. Rather than using shisho leaves, I’ll use dried thimbleberry blossoms and salmonberry leaves. And of course, I’m adding spruce tips.
Out in front of my cabin, I spread the delicate green sea lettuce fronds on a table next to my seawall. After a cool spring, we’re finally getting some hot weather. Tis the season for seasoning! It’s supposed to be in the 70s today. Though I melt in 70 degrees, the higher temps are good for drying seaweed when you live in a rainforest. While I wait for the sea lettuce to dry outside, I dry the handful of small popweed in my oven on low. Using a clean coffee grinder, I grind the flowers, beach greens, and seaweed. I also grind and toast the sesame seeds.
After two hours in the hot sun, the sea lettuce shrinks, turns darker, and crisp. To test it, I crinkle it with my hands. Time to set up all my ingredients outside on the table. This seasoning is new to me since I’ve only eaten furikake in restaurants and have never looked for it in our local grocery store, though I’m sure it’s there.
Into a medium-sized glass bowl, I pour in the toasted sesame seed mix then add in the all the other ingredients. Lastly, with my hands, I crinkle the sea lettuce into small bits and dump the handfuls into the mix and stir. I scoop the seasoning into three small jelly jars that have been cleaned and dried. I put the lids and rings on the jars, and then poke holes in the lid. The seasoning will last about six months. Use Southeast Alaskan furikake as you would any steak or fish seasoning. Sprinkle it on your rice or noodle dishes too. Popular uses for furikake are mixed in onigiri (rice balls), sprinkled on sushi, ramens, omelets, and tofu. Also, try sprinkling Southeast Alaskan furikake on potato and macaroni salads. Use it to season fries, vegetables, and soups. To try out the furikake I’m making Spam musubi for dinner, though I’m excited to make salmon and halibut musubi this summer. There are many ways to sprinkle, or should I say “furikake” your foods with summer.
Dear Reader, I’m sharing my Southeast Alaska furikake recipe with you, and your challenge is to make this seasoning with as many local ingredients as you can. I love the Tlingit saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” That’s how I see our beautiful Southeast Alaskan beaches—always a potentially good recipe.
Southeast Alaska Furikake
Makes 1 small jar of seasoning.
(I tripled this recipe to make 3 jars).
Locally harvested ingredients:
½ cup dried sea lettuce, broken or torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon finely ground, dried red seaweed
1 tablespoon ground, dried thimble berry blossoms
1-2 tablespoon ground, dried salmonberry blossoms
4-6 dried spruce tips, ground fine
1 tablespoon ground, dried goose tongue
1 tablespoon ground, dried sea-hair grass
1 tablespoon ground, dried popweed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
The specialty ingredients (purchased)
½ cup white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seed
3 tablespoons bonito (fish) flakes
1 teaspoon miso powder
½ teaspoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon kelp powder
Make sure you clean your coffee grinder before using. Pour the white sesame seeds into a grinder or small food processor. If you’re tripling the recipe, you’ll have to do this in batches, especially if you have small grinder. Don’t over grind. Pulse once or twice only to release the flavor from the seeds, leaving many of the seeds whole. Next, toast the sesame seeds along with the powdery ground mushrooms, and ground red seaweed (also called dulse) together for a couple of minutes in a small frying pan. Careful not to burn. (If you’re adding black sesame seeds you don’t have to grind and toast them.)
In a medium-sized bowl, mix all the ingredients you’ve foraged and grounded with the other specialty ingredients, including your toasted seeds. Using your hands, crinkle the sea lettuce into small pieces and fold into your seasoning. Put the seasoning into a clean spice container or jar. Seal with a lid and make sure there are holes for shaking.
Bonus: Highbush cranberry dipping sauce for musubi
1 small 6-8 oz jar highbush cranberry jelly (works with any homemade jelly)
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
brown sugar to taste (1-3 tablespoons)
¼ cup water
2 tbs cornstarch
Wisk together the jelly, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Turn the burner on low and heat it up slowly, stirring occasionally. If needed, you might have to add a few tablespoons of water. In another small jar or bowl pour in the ¼ c water and using a fork, mix in cornstarch to make a slurry. Pour the slurry into the saucepan with the jelly mixture and mix thoroughly. Heat this up until it thickens. Add more soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar according to your tastes. If you like it spicey, add chili flakes. This sauce is used to flavor your musubi atop the meat or fish before wrapping with nori. Just a small amount of sauce will do. Some cooks baste sauces on the fish or Spam while cooking. Also, highbush cranberry sauce can be used to dip your musubi into. Enjoy!
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.