Seaweed Sandwiches

My first experience with eating seaweed was when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barnett, brought in a big bag of gnarled dried Japanese seaweed, presumably to familiarize us with foods from other cultures. Few of us kids growing up in sheltered New England would touch the stuff, although I took a little taste, but didn’t share her enthusiasm for the sea-scented tangle of salty greens.

So she ate the whole bag herself.

Later that day, Mrs. Barnett went home early, doubled-over, and clutching her stomach.

seaweed.jpg

As an adult, I’ve broadened my horizons, overcome any aversion, but most of the seaweed I consume comes surrounding tekka-make rolls, or other sushis as they’re called in France. (They add the “s” to pluralize them, even though you don’t pronounce it.)

My salt man, Monsieur Dion, who I used to get my fleur de sel and grey sea salt from (before he closed), appeared at my market on Sunday with a big barrel of Salicornes Fraîches, pickled in vinaigre de vin blanc with carrots, onions, and a few branches of thyme, which his brother made in Brittany. When I visited Brittany last summer, we visited Algoplus, where I tasted the locally-harvested salicornes, which had the curious taste of green beans. And in fact, the French call them haricots de mer, or green beans of the sea. In English, they’re called ‘glasswort’. According to Judy Rodgers in, The Zuni Cookbook (a book anyone interested in cooking should own) she includes a recipe for Pickled Glasswort and says the English used to call them “chicken claws”.

While the haricots de mer were tasty, just a forkful was enough, although perhaps anything served with a dollop of crème fraîche, as they were served, certainly seems more appealing. And although I conceded that they were tasty, I resisted the tempation to buy a jar, assuming they’d end up in my ‘Too Good To Use’ shelf (which I feel will soon collapse.)

seaweedsandwiches.jpg

After considering their vinegary, cornichon-like taste, I mentioned to Monsieur Dion that they’d be good served alongside or atop something fatty and meaty, like pâte or a rich smear of rillettes, and before I could finish my sentence (which, as a rule, takes much longer for me in French than in English), he produced a platter bearing slices of crusty baguette spread with rillettes de porc, topped with a piece of salicorn. The next day, I used a few slices of toasted pain aux ceriales to make my own sandwich layered with juicy, vibrant-yellow slices of tomato, cured salmon with lots of fragrant dill, a thin layer of coarse-grained mustard, all finished with a squeeze of puckery lemon juice. I topped them off with a few ‘sprigs’ (I guess they’re sprigs, although in French, there’s probably a special word used exclusively for ‘sprigs’ of les salicornes.)

My sandwiches were terrific, and I spent the afternoon not clutching my stomach, but visiting the breathtaking Musée de l’Orangerie, then walking home along the Seine, without incident…and nary a rumble from below.

Algoplus
Zone du Bloscon
Roscoff, France
Tél: 02 98 61 14 14

13 comments

  • Please note that salicornia is not, technically or in reality, a seaweed, but a plant that grows in brackish meadows. From Wikipedia:
    The glassworts comprise the genus Salicornia of succulent, salt tolerant plants that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves. Glasswort species are native to the United States and Europe.
    Glassworts are also known as marsh samphire; the term samphire (see disambiguation page) is used for several unrelated species of coastal plant.
    The glassworts are small, usually less that 30 cm tall, succulent herbs with a jointed horizontal main stem and erect lateral branches. The leaves are small and scale-like and as such the plant may appear leafless. Many species of glasswort are green, but their foliage turns red in autumn. The hemaphrodite flowers are wind pollinated, and the fruit is small and succulent and contains a single seed.
    Glasswort can tolerate immersion in salt water.

  • Ahah David, I love your pronunciation advice. ;-) “sssssss…….”
    Mrs Barnett, I love that name. For some reason, I can picture this woman, just by her name!
    Yummy sandwiches!

  • Btw, “Sprigs” in French is “brins” (un brin, n. m.)

  • Thank Richard, that must be why I didn’t get sick…like poor Mrs. Barnett!

  • They simply call them sea beans here in SF, I bought some on Saturday and they even starred in my blogathon. I like them raw for their salty crunch.

  • When did l’Orangerie reopen??? I had hoped to visit in February, but alas, it was still closed. :(

  • Here in England we generally refer to it as samphire. I’ve just thrown an old jar of pickled samphire away and this has got me hungry for more.

  • Living on an archipelago, we get used to eating all sorts of unusual marine flora and fauna. We have so many kinds of seaweed, and I enjoy them freshly prepared in a salad, eaten with a freshly cooked fish. Loved the architecture of the salmon tidbit, it must have tasted great!

  • Wow, great pictures. I defintiely relate to you with your seaweed stories!

  • I once found something that looked something like that at my farmers’ market in Los Angeles. It was called sea asparagus and had a little tip not unlike asparagus. I had it sauteed with salmon. It was a wonderful combination because the sea asparagus had a salty, briney quality that especially suited the strong-flavored fish.

    It was also good uncooked when you could really appreciate its natural crisp saltiness.

  • Last week I was up on a small island in British Columbia, Canada, and met someone who collected these herself from the local lagoon. She called them sea asparagus and liked them cooked with basmanti rice–after boiling them twice to lessen the saltiness.

    Sounds delicious with salmon and lemon. Lovely photos as well.

  • Hi David, just finished watching “a bug’s life” with my son and the “stick” out of the flea circus looks exactly like your samphire! I’ve never tried samphire myself, although they sell it at my local fishmongers – must try it soon.
    Glad to hear the orangerie has re-opened… i saw it way back when, in the 80s, probably, and am dying to go again – trip to paris looming, i guess!!

  • Hello, I am visiting Paris for three days in August 26, 27 and 28th..it is my first time and am coming with my 9 year old daughter. We are staying in Marais, any suggestions on where we absolutely must go to eat and as a publicist for a small kitchen appliance manufacturer do you know any food product writers it would make sense to meet?