The Dish: Plankton Bucatini
Where to Get It: Brine, 2985 District Ave., Suite 120, Fairfax; (703) 280-1000;
What It Is: Powdered plankton, coupled with toasted nori, is kneaded into the bucatini dough to give the pasta a deep green color. Clams, guanciale, brown butter, preserved lime, and chili threads complete the dish. Plankton, a superfood, is sold at health food stores, but chef John Critchley gets his more pure version online for about $1 per gram. “It gets pretty expensive,” he says. “But we only have to use a few grams per batch, because it’s that powerful.”
What It Tastes Like: While it’s difficult to decipher the flavor of the plankton in the finished dish, Critchley says on its own it tastes like an algae—“not like a pond, but more like an ocean bloom.” In the pasta, it adds a “natural umami flavor.” The most prominent taste on the plate, however, is the smokiness from guanciale. It’s countered by the light tang of the preserved lime and a rich seafood broth. The chili threads add subtle heat.
The Story: Critchley says he first saw plankton used in pasta with sea urchin and seafood broth at Clio in Boston, where he once worked. The chef later created his own version with razor clams in his previous gig at Bourbon Steak before bringing the dish to Brine, where the plankton ties in well with the restaurant’s oyster focus. Critchley says microbiologists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts use the high-nutrient plankton to help the oyster “seeds” grow quickly. “It’s kind of like chlorophyll but of the sea world,” he says.
Photo by Jessica Sidman