Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sea greens: Sea Asparagus

During Arcly's west coast visit in June we ate both the flora and the fauna of the sea. The ocean is very obliging when it comes to providing meat, but it's equally easy to find edible plants along the sea shore.  A huge variety of seaweed and intertidal plants are edible.. it's up to you how adventurous you want to be, I guess.  One of the least offensive sea-plants you can find is sea asparagus (Salicornia virginica), otherwise known as beach asparagus, sea beans, pickleweed, saltwort, glasswort.

Sea asparagus is a native succulent which grows to about a food in height.  It has scaly jointed stems, and will flower when mature.  It is a high intertidal plant, and you will find it on protected, sandy shores rather than the exposed rocky shorelines that are so common here on the West Coast.  Check for it in bays.  If you see a grassy shoreline abutting the beach, you might be in luck for sea asparagus.


The best picking is going to be around June and July, before the plants flower.  As you are picking, try to pick clean.  Don't pull it out - cut it and try to be selective as you are picking, that way you will save yourself some work when you are back home.  

Once you have gotten it home, rinse and clean it. You have a lot of eating options.  Firstly, it will keep really well in the fridge.  The batch we harvested on this trip lasted a week in my fridge with little to no signs of spoilage.  Otherwise, you can blanch it and freeze it, can it, or saute it and eat it like regular asparagus.

Rinse sea beans - they will still be salty though.

For this particular batch, we sauteed them with butter, garlic and beet greens and served it up with our delicious intertidal chowder.

Sea asparagus sauteed with garlic and beet greens as part of our coastal feast.

You could pickle it too, though, which is what I ended up doing with the leftovers.  I followed Langdon Cook's recipe for Asian pickled sea beans, which is a straightforward recipe: use 1tbsp of vinegar per cup of rice wine vinegar: boil.  Add to jar with a couple of slides of ginger and an anise seed.  Done! My reference books suggest that to pickle sea asparagus you can just follow recipes for canning green beans.

Asian pickled sea asparagus.  
So to recap, they are easy to fine, and easy to prepare.  Eat them fresh, can them, pickle them, saute them with bacon, garlic, whatever!  If you are not convinced that this a gourmet dish yet, then let me tell you that we found Sea Asparagus (Fresh! Healthy!) for sale at Vancouver's trendy Granville Market going for almost $6/pound!!  Do you believe me now?

Ridiculously expensive Sea Asparagus for yuppies at Granville Island.

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