Chef Justin Wills is an extremist. From his kitchen at Depoe Bay’s Restaurant Beck, he crosses suburban backyards, tromps across coastal underbrush, and scales uprooted trees in a quest for fresh ingredients from coastal tide pools. The spindly sea bean, found swaying in soggy patches as the ocean swells, is a prized trophy in this pantry. Its salty stalks become the focal point in Beck’s dish of pork belly confit and sweet corn ice cream—one of the many foraged surprises in Wills’s wild repertoire.
Justin Wills, Gregory Gourdet, and Ben Jacobsen forage sea beans.
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When he isn’t out harvesting plum-colored oxalis, red deer fiddlehead ferns, or coral mushrooms, the James Beard semifinalist relies on his ragtag team of purveyors, including mercenary divers hunting sea urchin and abalone. “People just show up with stuff unannounced,” he says. “We had one woman out of Tillamook bringing us these rare blue chanterelles for a while. One day she just disappeared, no note, no phone call.”
Sea beans (also called glasswort or marsh samphire) show up on Restaurant Beck’s menu in various guises: raw, pickled, and even dehydrated and ground into “sea bean salt.” Each cactus-like stalk delivers an intensely briny flavor akin to asparagus, with the satisfying crunch of a green bean. They’re at their best with seafood, like this no-cook, home-cured recipe for albacore crudo. A sense of adventure is required—waders are optional.
Albacore Crudo with Ginger Vinaigrette and Sea Beans
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp togarashi (Find this Japanese spice mix at local gourmet markets.)
- 1 lime, zested
- ½ lb Oregon albacore tuna loin
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 ½ tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 oz sea beans, washed (Find them at Nomadic Meal at the PSU Farmers Market.)
- 4 Thai basil leaves, torn
(1) COMBINE sea salt, togarashi, and lime zest.
(2) RUB cure on tuna and let sit, covered, in refrigerator for 6 hours.
(3) COMBINE ginger, rice vinegar, and lime juice in a bowl to form a vinaigrette.
(4) SLOWLY whisk in olive oil and set aside.
(1) RUB cure off of tuna gently with a paper towel.
(2) SLICE tuna with a very sharp knife into ¼-inch pieces, and shingle onto a plate.
(3) COMBINE sea beans and basil leaves in a small mixing bowl, and dress lightly with some of the ginger vinaigrette.
(4) PLACE sea bean and basil salad on top of tuna, drizzle more ginger vinaigrette on top, and serve.