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“Some chefs give them a quick blanch in hot water and some pickle them, but I like using them completely raw,” says Whaley’s Executive Chef Daniel Perron. He’s talking about sea beans, an ingredient that’s increasingly showing up on menus in D.C. They’re succulents, after all, so of course they’re trending.
“Sea beans are super thin green plants that grow wild along beaches and salt marshes,” Perron says. “They’re a great garnish for crudos, salads, or any dish that could use a little texture.” He tops a side of togarashi-flavored pickles with sea beans at the Navy Yard restaurant he helms.
The verdant stalks that burst in your mouth go by many names besides sea bean, such as salicornia, saltwort, samphire, glasswort, pickleweed, or chicken feet. Better yet, some French Canadians call them “tétines de souris,” which translates to “mouse nipples”
They’re a good protein source and contain vitamin A, calcium, and iron. Chefs who use them have to be careful to call off excess salting of a dish because some sea beans boast as much briny flavor as an Olde Salt oyster from the Eastern Shore.
“Seasoning without the direct use of salt, for me, is a pillar of Mediterranean cuisine,” says Fiola Executive Sous Chef Josh Kaplan. “Because salicornia, or sea beans, grow along the coast they bring a saline minerality to a dish.” He likes the crunch and playful texture of sea beans, and the fact that succulents have the ability to take on the “meroir” of their growing environment, much like grapes show off a wine region’s terrior.
Fiola, located downtown, currently features sea beans on its tuna crudo amuse-bouche, which is also garnished with uni (sea urchin), Sorrento lemon puree, and a Southern Italian dressing bursting with lemon known as salmoriglio. They are also featured on the Spanish branzino with oysters, leeks, and caviar.
At Seven Reasons on 14th Street NW, Executive Chef and partner Enrique Limardo uses sea beans on a dish called “sweet potato madness” that stars a twice-baked sweet potato, spicy almond dressing, red beet emulsion, and roasted garlic. “The plant retains a lot of water inside,” Limardo says. “It’s kind of like a cactus.”
Favoring their salty flavor and crunchy texture, Limardo says he’s been using sea beans in his Latin American cooking for a long time. Sea beans grow well in parts of North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia. He also freeze-dries them to make a powder that he sprinkles on his creations instead of salt.
Aaron Silverman, who heads Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple and Pearls, and Little Pearl on Barracks Row, recommends serving sea beans tempura-style. He plans to use sea beans in an upcoming dish for his new catering venture, Rose’s at Home, where menus start at $50 per person.
“You have to be careful you pick out the hard stems that are in the bigger pieces,” Silverman says. “Think of it like a woody, overgrown vegetable with a really hard interior. The young, baby beans are the best.”