Salicornia

Salicorne

Not quite a vegetable but not quite a seaweed, salicornia must have gone through a tough identity crisis as a teenager. And that’s not even taking into account the multiple names it has to answer to — sea bean, sea asparagus, glasswort, or marsh samphire in English, perce-pierre, salicot, cornichon de mer, or criste-marine in French.

Whatever the moniker, salicornia is a wild, succulent plant that grows along the seashore and in salt marshes. It comes in bushes of crisp and juicy twigs that are harvested in late spring to early summer (i.e. now) and can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled.

Pickled salicornia is easy to come by in Brittany, and in fact this is where I first encountered it as a child: my family vacationed on the coast for a week every spring, and we would buy the occasional jar of softly pickled salicornia to add to the salads my mother made in the awkward kitchen of whatever house we rented.

I was already fond of the sour/salty combo at the time so it was a treat for me, but I suspect that part of my appreciation came from the fact that the word salicorne is so similar to the word licorne (unicorn), which is very cool by any standard, whether you’re an eight-year-old girl or a fan of Blade Runner or both.

The above-pictured salicornia, however, is not pickled. Its bright green color, starkly offset by the fish market blue of the plastic bag, indicates that it is raw: Maxence and I bought it fresh at the poissonnerie last weekend, happy to stumble upon this relative rarity a mere two days after having it at the British ambassador’s house.

Oh, did I not mention we had dinner at the British ambassador’s house? It must have slipped my mind. Well, we did, and the occasion was the all-British banquet that the BBC organized for the final show of their Great British Menu series, which aired this past Friday. It was a memorable evening — I wouldn’t mind having a garden like the ambassador’s — and one of the things we liked best about the menu was the salicornia that was paired with Richard Corrigan’s wild salmon, between Sat Bains’ ham, egg, and peas and Mark Hix’s stargazy pie.

The salicornia that we found was a bit more mature and thus thicker, so some of the twigs needed to have their woody end trimmed — much like your average asparagus stalk. Because it grows so close to the sea, salicornia is very salty, so I soaked it in fresh water for a little while, boiled it for three minutes in unsalted water (you could steam it, too, but it wouldn’t remove as much salt), then sautéed it for two minutes in olive oil.

The resulting jumble of dark green twigs, yielding but crisp, their flavor marine and slightly ferrous like spinach, was an assertive yet flattering side to whole pink trouts. I plan to buy more salicornia before the season ends, and I am contemplating using it in a quiche or an omelet, or, finely chopped, in a steak or salmon tartare.

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com barbara

    An interesting vegetable Clotilde.

  • yan

    I was in Pembrokeshire in Wales this weekend and had salacornia for the first time at The Blue Ball restaurant in Tenby(www.theblueballrestaurant.co.uk) where it was served with sea bass. Tasted delicious. The next day I saw it growing on the sea front at a little village along the coast.

  • Andrea-Michelle

    This post encompasses all of why I adore this blog – discovering new foods, great recipes, and incomparable writing. The unicorn comparison is just so girly & cute!

  • http://thyme2.typepad.com/ Katiez

    I’ve seen it and heard of it but never had a clue what to do with it. But with references to beans, asparagus and spinach I would have to like it.
    Next time – I’ll try it. I’m assuming it should be cooked first – or, at least, blanched…. I can always use another vegetable!

  • http://www.ceresandbacchus.com Mary

    Sounds like you had a lovely dinner at the Ambassador’s. I’ve been wanting to try stargazy pie forever. I’ve only ever seen salicornia pickled and only in Brittany. I wonder if anyone has ever seen it in the US?

  • chrissie

    Clotilde,
    Having settled down to watch the Ambassador’s Dinner last Friday with my husband and 2 young daughters (all committed foodies!), I was convinced that I spotted you on at least a couple of occasions (once sitting next to the talented Hardeep Singh Kohli, an accomplished chef in this own right), having recently discovered your wonderful blog! I thought I must be mistaken, since you hadn’t mentioned going…until now!
    What did you really think of the food? I think Mark Hix particularly is fabulous and so laid-back. British food has come a long long way but unfortunately still has a bad reputation in France. We have been lucky enough to be living in Paris for the past 2 years and I eagerly read all the comments made about foodie life here on your blog. Having been familiar with samphire from the UK and seeing it again at the Dinner, I was actually wondering whether it was used in France and now I know. Looking forward to receiving your book which I have on order and wishing you all the best of luck with your career in food! Your English is superb by the way and I can only dream that my French will ever be as good!

  • Laura Adrian

    Yum! Can’t wait to pick some up.. thanks for the never-ending inspriation!

  • http://www.cocoandme.com Tamami

    Hi Clotilde!
    Hey, I’m the first to comment this time! Yay!
    Oh I’m sooo jealous you went to the BBC ‘all-British banquet’! I’ve been following that programme whenever I can, especially the bit when they make the desserts, since that’s where my passion lies…
    Anyway, hope all is well, & if you ever get a bit of free time in your busy book-tour in London, come to Broadway Market (on every Saturday) to see me! Free cakes await you…

  • Kalyn

    This looks like a plant which grows by the Great Salt Lake in Utah and is called “pickleweed” here. When my class went on a field trip to the lake, the kids were all quite interested in tasting it, and with the salty flavor, it did taste quite a bit like pickles. I suspect it grows more abundantly in Europe, since the area around the GSL is classified as a desert.

  • Zac

    From C&Z to Blade Runner in three steps — very impressive! You’ve always had my interest, but now you have my respect. Well done!

  • http://www.thecookshangout.com Maria Glensworth

    What a strange plant, I’ve never even heard of such a thing :p

    Will have to check it out ASAP, sounds delicious.

    Love, Maria

  • Marije

    Salicornia is a traditional dish in my home region, Zeeland in The Netherlands. Nowadays, we import it from… France! It tastes great in a risotto with chicken, or just boiled for a few minutes as a sidedish. Great food!

  • swan

    CLOTILDE!!!!!! More, more, more please about the banquet!! I am SO jealous, having followed the entire BBC-series on TV and taped it whenever I would miss it, enjoyed it a lot (as I did with the previous one, for the Queens 80-st B-day), and just saw the final show on tape YESTERDAY ’cause I was abroad when it aired…YOU WERE THERE!!!!!!

    And you’ve met the chefs. And the judges. And Hardeep. Sigh…

    So far I really liked you :-)

    tell us more, please, pretty please?!?!

    What a lovely evening that must have been!

  • Mandy

    I’ve seen “sea beans” a few times at Pike Place Market (Sosio’s Produce) in Seattle. I’ve always been intrigued and tempted, but I’ve never known what to do with them. I’ll have to give them a go next time!

  • Trish

    Cool looking/sounding veggie! I wonder how hard it is to find in the states?

  • http://www.areweinparisyet.blogspot.com shelli

    I’ve loved salicorne for years and never knew what it was called: “you know, that salty vegetable” doesn’t get you much response at the market. Our great local Monterey Market in
    Berkeley sometimes has it and now I know what to do with it other than nibble delicately with drinks.

  • http://www.eatdrinklive.typepad.com Laura

    I’m a big Richard Corrigan fan, no doubt because he is an incredibly talented Irishman! I also love Mark Hix, his childrens recipe book Eat Up was the first book I bought when my daughter began eating real food. Quite a bit more simple than his other books but no less inspirational.
    We know this as samphire here in Ireland but I have never cooked with it. Looking forward to the results of your experiments.

  • http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/ sam

    Samphire as I call it are called sea beans here in SF too. Clotilde I am so jealous you got to eat stargazey pie at such a baquet,
    You will simply have to enter my St Georege’s Day English Food event next year to help International ties between Britain and France develop even further! I plan to call it Bangers and Sass, I am sure you have plenty xxx

  • Job

    My vegetable stallholder on the saturday market in Rotterdam has it almost every week. It’s very good with seabass (just crispy baked on the skin) and the salicornia (zeekraal in dutch) just sauteed in little butter. Don’t soak them in fresh water, by cooking you’re already reducing the salty taste! But why i’m writing this, he drives to paris every week to buy his veggies and all, so it has to be widely available in Paris i guess! Happy hunting.

    Ciao,

    Job

  • http://nami-nami.blogspot.com/ Pille

    I saw salicorne (cool name:) at fishmongers in Edinburgh occasionally, but I must admit I’ve never tried any. Next time I grab the chance – it sounds most interesting!

  • http://numnumbirdy.blogspot.com Tit’

    J’adore la salicorne ! Je réalise souvent un petite salade des plus simples avec trois fois rien. Sur un lit de salicorne, je dépose une couche de carottes râpées, des lardons, des croûtons frottés à l’ail et des tranches de filet mignon sautées. J’arrose généreusement de vinaigre de cidre et d’huile d’olive, un peu de poivre, de fleur de sel et voilà, le tour est joué !

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I was going to say, “No thanks”. It just doesn’t sound good but I like spinach and asparagus and turnip greens. Maybe, if I should happen to see it, I will give it a try-on a menu somewhere-don’t think I will make it myself.

  • kasim

    A Turkish blogger gave a nice recipe for salicorne and served it along with puree of fava beans.
    Check out her site, she has a nice picture of the dish:

    http://www.evcini.com/2006/11/post_5.html

    The recipe is in Turkish, though.

  • http://cupcakepunk.blogspot.com Jes

    Hilarious! Every time I’m on the southeastern US coast (particularly Georgia) and in the marshes, I pick glasswort and munch on it. I’ve got to find a place to buy this and try cooking with it now!

  • Greta

    Here is some nutrition info for this vegetable: http://www.calorie-count.com/calories/item/115894.html
    not bad!

  • http://thehungerseattle.blogspot.com Stephen

    Clotilde, sea beans are very delicious. They grow wild here in Seattle, Washington by the coast. I foraged some last summer and pickled them. They also make a nice little salad. I’ll have to go pick some soon.

  • rainey

    Thanks for the pix of the growing plant. For whatever reason (maybe the sharp briney flavor?) I imagined it grew underwater.

    I bought it at a farmers’ market in CA last summer or the summer before as sea asparagus and with it’s little tips it does look rather asparagish.

    I sautéed it and served it with salmon and I agree with the ambassador that it’s a wonderful pairing of the briney green and the creamy pink.

  • Kharina

    I caught a glimpse of you on telly actually. Looking wonderfully fab! You are now a celebrity!

  • hachee

    Just as Job stated a few posts ago you can get it at Dutch markets too. In the province where i grew up (zeeland) we ate it regularly, as well as Limonium vulgare (lamsoor in dutch, statice vulgaire in french). Have you ever tried it? It’s as nice as salicorne.

  • Dan Dx

    About “The ambassador’s banquet”, I don’t want to make fun at them, but the BBC comment really made me laugh:
    “The French will go away and they probably haven’t had their prejudices overthrown, but they’ve certainly had them challenged.”

    Some more:
    “If the French don’t like the way the British have cooked this evening, then they don’t deserve to eat British food because it was absolutely the most superb menu.”

    ROTFL!

    Sorry.

  • lectric lady

    Clotilde-

    You got some wonderful strokes at this site:

    http://www.leitesculinaria.com/

  • http://lefrancbuveur.blogspot.com lefrancbuveur

    Il me souvient la Bretagne…
    Félicitations pour ton très beau site!

  • Isin

    Always thought of sea beans as a typical Mediterranean plant, presumably because it is widely known and consumed in western Turkey and not at all in other parts. I am surprised to to hear it is so popular in UK and Netherlands, though. Simply add olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to boiled sea beans. It makes a perfect salad and is a typical accompaniment to every kind of fish here.

  • http://www.preserveless.blogspot.com Ales

    I was in Berk only last week and I saw it in several shops for the first time in my life. I didn’t try it though…maybe next time : )

  • joanne

    Pickleweeds grow wild in San Francisco too, but I haven’t seen them in the markets.

  • winl

    Here is an article on this vegetable you may find interesting. It includes some recipes as well.

    http://starbulletin.com/2006/07/26/features/story01.html

  • Bob Allen

    Clothilde,

    My wife Dot and I bought salicorne de l’ile de Noirmoutier in a jar on one of our trips to your wonderful country. We served it with raclette for a delicious treat.

    Bob

  • http://almostturkish.blogspot.com burcu

    Hi Clotilde,
    I wish I could find salicorne here in the states. In Turkey we serve it similar to your recipe; boil for 5 minutes, squeeze some lemon juice, scatter minced garlic, and dress with olive oil. It’s soooo good. Sometimes people add yogurt on top, and it’s even more delicious that way.

  • carrie

    it’s time for salicornia again and it *is* delicious! so interesting to find this post… just picked up a small basket of the stuff at the san francisco farmer’s market at the ferry building…. the mushroom stall inside has it for $3.00 for a little basket. yum! i love to nibble it raw! :)

  • rabbimarketmaker

    & there you go…& you learn something new everyday…GUM ZOO-L’SHANA TOVA, IF I HAD TO AGAIN START & DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN…

    http://starbulletin.com/2006/07/26/features/story01.html

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