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Stalking the Wild Sea Bean: A Good Excuse to Trudge Around the Marsh

Other than early strawberries and a few odds and ends, New England–always the proper lady–often makes you wait quite a long time before sampling her fruitful bounty each summer.  Indeed, the tomatoes are green and the lobsters are soft; however, one seaside gift from the gods is at its best this month–the wild sea bean.

What you may ask is a sea bean?  They are a gnarly little sea vegetable that looks like a cross between an asparagus and a cactus and tastes like a cross between a green bean and a salt lick.  They are a succulent that grows low to the ground in marshes the world over (but our local variety seem to be among the most tender) and if you stumbled upon one out of context, you might mistake it for something you would throw into a gold fish bowl for a little ambience (or more likely to quell that nagging feeling that there’s something very wrong with keeping a living thing in a tiny glass bowl…).  Sea Beans are also one of those wild vegetables, like so many of its foraged brethren, that go by a seemingly infinite number of colloquial names:  sea asparagus, samphfire, salicornia, glasswort, chicken feet, saltwort.  This is probably because it grows everywhere and has been used for everything from making glass (yes, hence the name) to feeding the Seri indians along the Sonoran coast of the Sea of Cortez.  Typical that people are just coming back to it as a salty spring staple, but I’m happy about it nonetheless.

Personally, I love picking them because its a good excuse to go walk around the marsh on a sunny day at high or low tide–an activity I thoroughly enjoy, but even I can’t generally justify doing for absolutely no reason.  The chefs we work with love them and they are also a great veggie addition to the awesome protein Duxbury Bay offers and generally can be found on our table all summer–lobster, clams, fish, oysters, scallops, mussels etc.  They go great with a mignonnette or blanched with some lemon (NB think acid to cut the strong salt like various oyster accoutrements).  They can be added to a starchy salad or anchor their own.  Below, find a great recipe from the man himself, ‘Honest’ Hank Shaw.  Now get out there and get your bean on!  Or just buy some from us… and you too can be as psyched as Jess is (pictured above)

★ Chris Sherman is Island Creek’s vice president.  He eats one sea bean for every one he picks.  Follow him on Twitter: @moresaltplease 

 

sea bean salad

by Hank Shaw

 

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