COURTESY OF ISLENSKHOLLUSTA
Ask an Icelandic chef for a culinary secret, and you’re likely to hear about the sea truffle. This parasitic seaweed (Vertebrata lanosa) washes up on a few different beaches around the island and is beloved for its earthy, complex taste, which has earned it comparisons to the hard-to-find fungus—without the bank-breaking cost.
At the Michelin-recommended restaurant Dill in Reykjavík, chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason sources the tumbleweed-like algae from a friend who forages for it in the country’s rugged Westfjords. While it may seem more readily available than actual truffles, Gíslason says, “It’s not like you just walk down to the beach and find it.” When a fresh haul arrives, Gíslason washes and blanches the fronds, then shocks them in an ice bath. “Putting it into the ice water takes the edge off,” he says. “It can be a little bitter and have a harsh aftertaste.” After drying or pickling the seaweed, he tweezes tiny portions onto dishes such as scallop tartare with vegetable consommé, or potatoes with skyr-whey caramel and apple-onion purée.
At Eleven Experience’s Deplar Farm on the Troll Peninsula, executive chef Garðar Kári Garðarsson gets sea truffles from his fishmonger, who also gathers them in the Westfjords, or from a foraged goods purveyor. Garðarsson dries and grinds the seaweed, and then infuses it in buttermilk, steeps it like tea, or sprinkles it over dishes like finishing salt. He says the strong flavor complements seafood and “gives a little spark” to subtler dishes such as cauliflower with green tomatoes.
Although the seaweed can be found year-round, Garðarsson says it’s most flavorful in the spring. “The smell is so potent,” he explains, “if you just open the bag, it smells like a truffle farm.”