I have never spent much time in trendy restaurants so until a couple of weeks ago samphire was just one of those ingredients contestants use all the time on Masterchef. It has become popular in recent years and now I know that is because it is delicious.
I saw it in the fish market about a month ago and the fishmonger gave me some to try. I googled it and learned it could be cooked a lot like asparagus so I blanched it and served it with butter, loads of pepper and some preserved lemon. It went well with the sea bass and I was intrigued to cook more with it.
I love that it tastes like the sea and is salty and has a crunchy, juicy texture. I have never eaten anything else like it.
This week I am looking after my sister’s dog and so decided to take him to the beach. We drove to the nearest bit of coast and there was no beach but mile after mile of marshland. Just above the wash on the east coast is one of the largest areas of wetland in the country and it is an amazing place to watch birds and pick samphire.
We walked out onto Freiston Marsh which is a gorgeous, wild stretch of coast with those beautiful big skies. As we approached the seas I could see miles and miles of small green plants and I hoped it would be samphire. Closer to the water was the greener juicier stuff so I began gathering.
Glad I had the dog with me as he doesn’t really like water and was extremely wary of the tide which was coming in fast – it would be easy to get caught out there.
There are two types of samphire which grow all around the shorelines of Europe, rock and marsh samphire. The latter is the one which has become popular and you can now even get it in the supermarket. It is basically a vegetable, related to parsley which some people call the asparagus of the sea.
I love eating wild foods and I am convinced they have more nutrients than your average cultivated crops. I hope these weird looking green sprigs are really good for me as this plant is supposed to have a high vitamin C content.
It is nearly the end of the season and samphire is best picked in June and July. After this time it starts to get woody but the ends of the stems were still juicy and soft so I picked a few handfuls and spent the journey home with the taste of salt on my lips thinking about how to cook them.
Samphire is an obvious accompaniment to seafood but I didn’t have any, so I decided to put some in an omlette. This was mainly because the only thing I had in the fridge was eggs but also I could really imagine the textures and flavours together.
I blanched the samphire in some unsalted water for a couple of minutes and added it to my omlette which I had seasoned with black pepper and a tiny pinch of cumin. It was a delicious lunch. The saltiness of the samphire and the soft eggs were a lovely match.
I managed to get to the fish market later but there was hardly anything left so I bought a chunk of hake and the last 6 prawns. I decided to make a Masterchefy style dish with pan-fried hake, crushed new potatoes and a prawn sauce. I shelled the prawns and kept the meat for the next day.
The shells and heads were browned in some butter and then simmered to make the base for a sauce. I finished it simply with cream and tarragon. YUM. I blanched the samphire again and served it with the fish and potatoes. A very satisfying meal.
There was still enough samphire for another meal so I decided to try and use it in a Thai-style stir-fry with prawns. I was thinking that maybe the samphire would add the saltiness rather than fish sauce. I did not blanch it just washed it well and added to the wok with the other vegetables. It worked really well like this and I would also eat it raw in a salad as the saltiness really packs a punch when it has not been blanched.
I made a basic curry paste to flavour the stir-fry with a little chilli and plenty of coriander and citrus so that it would be zingy but not overpowering. For vegetables I used what I had in the fridge and garden, a few radishes, spring onions, runner beans and samphire.
I served this with wholewheat Udon noodles but it would be great with rice noodles or rice. One thing I love about a stir-fry is that you can use up lots of bits of leftover vegetables or proteins so if you want to try this all you really need is the samphire and the Thai paste and then add whatever you want to them.
12-16 Raw prawns
6 Spring Onions
2 runner beans
100g samphire, washed thoroughly
juice of 1 lime
Noodles or rice, cooked
15ml sesame oil
Coriander leaves to garnish
For the curry paste
Pinch sea salt
1 clove garlic
1 birds eye chilli
1 Handful fresh coriander leaves
2 coriander roots (If you have them)
1/2 tsp toasted coriander seeds
Zest of 1 lime
1 stalk lemongrass
1tbsp palm sugar
How to prepare the stir-fry:
1. Make the paste by grinding all the ingredients in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
2. Prepare all the ingredients before starting to cook the stir-fry as it should only be in the pan a few minutes. Cook and refresh the noodles or rice. Chop the vegetables and blanch the runner beans.
3. Heat a little vegetable or rape seed oil in a hot wok. Add the paste and fry for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
4. Meanwhile start to cook the prawns in a separate frying pan.
5. Add the spring onions and after a minute the runner beans, radish and most of the samphire (reserve a little for garnish).
6. After a minute add the noodles or rice, squeeze over the lime juice and add the fish sauce. Keep everything moving while the noodles heat up.
7. Check the seasoning by tasting some of the noodles with samphire as this is salty and will affect how much fish sauce needs to be added.
8. Place the vegetables and noodles onto a plate with the prawns on top and then dress with sesame oil, coriander leaves and the leftover samphire.
The texture and taste of samphire are really unique and I plan to eat lots more of it from now on. I think it will be great in salads, to dress a fish stew or curry and also just on its own with some lemon butter. The season is almost over but they still have it in my local supermarket.