Every summer, I need to taste the sea. When we go on vacation and finally hit the beach, the first thing I do is run to the water and bring a few sweet drops to my mouth. The slightly salty, complex ocean flavour is close to our own sweat and saliva, to the taste of life. And when we return home, it is the taste of the sea that I miss the most. But that is about to change, thanks to a delicious briny plantsalicorne.
Salicorne is the taste of summer by the sea. It is slightly salty with a fresh, not overpowering, herbal taste. It grows exceptionally well in salt marshes and can sometimes be harvested under wharves. Although salicorne is a weed and does grow by the sea, it does not look like seaweed. It is more like a sprig off a tree with small dark green fleshy branches.
Salicorne has no comfortable English name. Some call it sea asparagus and it does have a little of the sweet flavour of that vegetable. It is also known as slender glasswort but that sounds too much like a botanical medicine from a Dickensian apothecary. So salicorne is how it is usually called in English and French.
The vegetable and fruit stand, Chez Louis, on the southern edge of the Jean Talon Market, will be carrying fresh green salicorne from Brittany through February and a slightly more fibrous, red variety from the Gaspé through November.
The plant is available as a vinegar and occasionally in cans but I think the fresh variety is worth looking for. At $3.50 for 100 grams, it is not too expensive. Cut into small pieces when fresh, salicorne is great in a salad.
Some restaurants serve it steamed under fish. While quite nice cooked this way, I find salicorne tastiest when fried for a minute or two in olive oil or butter. This caramelizes the slender branches just a little bit and makes the flesh a little less salty and sweeter.