Los Angeles, and pretty much all of California, reaps the benefits that come from proximity to one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the country. The tendency, however, is to think that the agriculture stops where the ocean starts. We're becoming more accustomed to the seasonal harvests of various fish and shellfish, but seaweed seems to have missed the boat, as it were. But seaweeds do have a season, and one of the more wonderful ocean vegetables is coming in now.
Carlsbad Aquafarms, the source of our Sunday morning breakfast of freshly shucked Lunas on the half shell at the Hollywood Market (one of Jonathon Gold's must-do 99's), just started harvesting their cultivated red ogo seaweed. The taste is pure ocean and brine; the texture is pleasantly crunchy and snappy. But don't cook it, as its translucent dark mahogany color will turn a drab opaque green, losing everything that makes Red Ogo so desirable in the first place. And any kapunawahine worth her salt knows that fresh, raw ogo makes a good Hawaiian poke so very ono. But Mark Steinke, Carlsbad Aquafarm's logistics manager, says he now uses it wherever he used to use lettuce. “It adds so much crunch and flavor, not to mention the nutrition. It has three times the potassium of bananas.” He recommends using it in a cucumber salad with feta and a squeeze of lemon, but also suggests adding it to sandwiches. “I made a Reuben with pastrami, ogo and sauerkraut. It was great.”
Carlsbad Aquafarms will be the only vendor carrying fresh red ogo at our local markets, of which they currently attend three: the Sunday Hollywood market, the Wednesday Santa Monica market, and the Saturday Santa Monica market. They have an application in at the Irvine market (“we're just waiting for a space to open up”) and they are looking to start up at a market closer to home in San Diego. “It's an education process. We often hear, 'well, I already have a fish vendor.' Getting them to understand what we do and what we offer is a challenge. There's a lot of initial resistance.” Steinke says they are looking at Hillcrest, Pacific Beach, and Temecula as potential southern market locations. Until then, it's all L.A., at least until October, weather permitting. Ogo demands sunny days and warm water to thrive, which can be hit or miss some weeks along the southern coastline, where the aquafarm is located inside a calm ocean inlet.