It is mind blowing to think that some of the most innovative food trends in the world are developing in our very own backyard: New York City. Like the many Manhattanites who need a break from the madness of the city, most of these culinary ideas trickle onto our island. However, Manhattan can’t take all the credit for the culinary currents gracing our plates. The new found trendiness of foraging, for example, wouldn’t exist if not for the contributions of our island’s native bounty. Sea beans are one such delight, and they’re spreading from the north shores of our beaches to the kitchens the avant garde. Lucky for us, they’re in season and we don’t have to travel 30 miles or spend a whopping average of $15 per pound to spoil ourselves.
Sea beans, also known as Salicornia maritima, sea asparagus, sea pickle, glasswort, salicornia, etc., is a succulent, salt tolerant plant that grows along the banks of salty marshes in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Crunchy, briny and super salty, these refreshing salt water veggies are a wonderful substitute for capers and are delicious in salads. Delicious raw, blanched, pickled, sautéed or any which way you desire, they boast high levels of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Always rinse, but don’t cook too long or they’ll lose their crunch.
Surprisingly, they don’t look very edible. Their abundance during low tide seems too good to be true. How could a salt water plant so lavishly available and worth $15 per pound just be sitting on our shores without being ransacked? Perhaps the Seri indians of the Sonoran Coast of Mexico, who are quite fond of the succulent treat, wanted to keep its deliciousness a secret.
I guess I ruined its incognito bounteousness, but there is plenty to go around, especially if harvested with scissors to preserve the roots and promote regeneration. You can store them in a sealed bag in the fridge for up to a week. The asparagus-like tips are the most tender, while the lower, reddish part of the stalk tends to be tough. Always leave enough for the next person and never eat a wild plant without first consulting a photo or guide. I could tell you where I get mine, but I’d have to kill you. You’ll have to go to the Vanderbilt in Brooklyn (where I gave them to my foraging mentors, Long Island natives and brotherly chef duo Brian and Kyle Fiasconaro), to munch on the sea beans from my favorite Long Island spot.
I judge my seafood based on how much it tastes like pure sea water. Fewer places is the refreshing salinity of salt water captured than in the crunchy bite of a sea bean, bursting with the personality of the Long Island Sound. Sea beans scream for the company of fresh fish, whether spread on as a relish or simply as a garnishing companion. Try some with your next batch of tilefish or flounder.
Foraging offers a wonderfully primitive perspective on what may too often seem like an overly developed landscape. Scanning the shoreline for patches of bright green beans is a great way to spend a sunny August day and reconnect with our territory. You might even get lucky and stumble upon some clams and mussels while you’re at it.