Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pickled Sea Beans


A couple weekends ago I attended an oyster fest on Samish Bay complete with sea kayaks, local beer, midnight skinny-dip, and a bluegrass band that retired fireside to play late-night requests. Good times. In addition to being fed ridiculous quantities of fresh oysters, clams, Dungeness crab, and salmon, the beach boasted a patch of sea beans stretching for hundreds of yards. The property owner, who runs ACME seafood, told me to have at it. We packed my daughter's sand pail the next morning before driving home.

Sea beans (Salicornia sp.) are known by many names: beach asparagus, glasswort, pickleweed, samphire. They're a succulent, salt-tolerant plant that grows along beaches, marshes, and mangroves around the world. In my region we find sea beans near the high tide mark along sandy or pebbly beaches. Fresh, they make a crunchy snack while clamming, and retain that pleasing crunch even after cooking. The flavor, if it can be called that, is subtle, a salty taste of the sea with a hint of wild green. I like sauteed sea beans mostly for the texture, the bright color, and the salt, as in an oyster succotash.

Sea beans also make an excellent garnish. Pickling them means you can have sea beans whenever inspiration strikes. I looked around for pickling recipes, of which there are few, and settled on two styles: Far East and Southwest.

Spicy Pickled Sea Beans

For the Southwest I adapted a fairly standard pickling recipe for spicy green beans:

4 handfuls sea beans
4 red chiles
6 garlic cloves
pinch peppercorns per jar
pinch coriander seeds per jar
pinch mustard seeds per jar
4 sprigs fresh dill
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1. Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water.

2. When jars are cool enough to handle, add pinches of coriander, mustard, and peppercorns. Pack half full with sea beans. Insert chiles, garlic cloves, and dill around outside edges. Finish packing with sea beans.

3. Bring water and vinegar to a boil. Ladle over the sea beans leaving about 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar edge clean and screw on sterilized lids.

4. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Check lids for proper seal. Store for at least one month before using to allow flavors to develop.

Yields 2 pints.

Asian Pickled Sea Beans

For the Far East I used Matt Wright's recipe.

sea beans
rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar per cup of vinegar
3 1-inch slices ginger per jar
1 star anise per jar

Figure on using at least 1 cup of vinegar for 2 half-pint jars. Oh, and rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are essentially the same thing, in case you were wondering.

1. Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water.

2. When jars are cool enough to handle, pack with sea beans. Insert ginger slices around edges and a single star anise at top.

3. Bring rice vinegar and sugar to a boil. Ladle over the sea beans leaving about 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar edge clean and screw on sterilized lids.

4. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Check lids for proper seal. Store for at least a few days before using to allow flavors to develop.

Word of warning: If you don't own a dedicated canner with a rack (i.e. you use a big 'ol pot instead, like me) be very careful with your jars to avoid breakage. I discovered this the hard way. Because the contents of the jars—the sea beans—are packed cold, your jars can experience a terrible fate called thermal shock and pop their bottoms off. Not pleasant. Keep the jars in the hot sterilization water until ready, pack them, don't overscrew the lids (you know what I mean), then place carefully in the pot before bringing to a boil. In restaurant/software speak, this is called a "soft launch."

And don't forget to use any leftover sea beans post-pickling. They make a salty garnish, or you can saute them in butter and garlic with a drizzle of lemon juice for a side dish. To leech out some of the salt, try blanching and shocking in two changes of water.

11 comments:

Julia said...

I love sea beans because they are so salty and crunchy. I remember seeing a competition on the Food Network a few months ago, and the judges complained that the chefs had done enough to tame the salt. I thought that was crazy.

Now pickled sea beans: crunchy salt! What could be better! I'll have to look around the Boston markets to see if I can find some.

drfugawe said...

Not surprised one of your few choices was Asian - they pickle everything that grows - Euell Gibbons, of course, treats Glasswort/Samphire pickles in his, "Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop": pack washed Glasswort stems into pint canning jars(3-4?) vertically - boil a quart of white vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tbs mixed pickling spices, 1 sliced onion, and 6 dried Bayberry leaves. Boil for 10 mins and pour over jar contents until covered - seal and wait 3 weeks before trying.

Carry on my friend.

Lone Acorn said...

I never had pickled sea beans. I will have to look for them to try this.

Jolita said...

I've seen these pants several times but never found out how they are called. Thanks for this post!!!

Patrick Belardo said...

Is it Sarcornia or Salicornia?

LC said...

Patrick - Good catch. It's *Salicornia sp.* Typo has been corrected.

Mel said...

I remembered this entry when I was wandering at the beach last week. I'd never really noticed them before, but I had to snip off a handful to try.

Thanks for helping me broaden my horizons, and for sharing your explorations and recipes.

Camille said...

AGH! Mind reader! I just pickled 7 jars of this stuff.

I use them for stuffing wild rice sushi along with foraged pickled burdock, shredded carrots, and avocado.

Yummmmeeeeee

Anonymous said...

Interesting that I found this sea beans at a State Park in WA. Do you know if we can pick these?

Catalina said...

Wow!
I've never heard of sea beans.
Of course, I live in Minnesota.....Are there lake beans?

FloridaSusan said...

Why not a lacto-ferment of the salicornia? It would be a perfect veggie for that. Maybe mix with a little wild mustard or another seasonal green? YUM!