Monday, March 17, 2008

S is for Samphire....

Samphire is a succulent wild green plant that you find growing on coastal marshes around Great Britain. The North Norfolk coast and parts of the Essex coast are famous for it. The samphire season in Britain lasts between June and September. So this was one vegetable that we had to taste when it was available. On our last holiday in Cornwall I overheard people talking about samphire growing on a local estuary. The next day I went to find it. The children looked on from the safety of solid ground as I stepped out purposely into the mud with what I thought was a perfect foragers’ basket. When you go foraging you have to be optimistic. Then the mud started to creep over the top of my wellington boots. I clung to my wicker basket and squelched around. Never believe anything you hear in a pub. There was no samphire. Or at least if there was any, it was hidden by mud. I thrust my hand into the mud and pulled out weeds. It started to rain heavily and then thunder. Alex and Freddie shouted at me to get out and come home. With each step the boots became stuck. In order to scramble out, I let go of the basket. I climbed up on all fours, mud-drenched. Slowly and with considerable pathos, the foragers’ basket sank into the mud. With one final glug, the wicker handle was subsumed and a spray of tiny bubbles rose to the surface. My image as an intrepid samphire forager was in tatters. Freddie took me by the hand and led me home. Samphire makes you do strange things.

So their very first taste of marsh samphire came from Fowey Fishmongers and was accompanied by smoked mackerel. Samphire is known as sea asparagus or poor man’s asparagus. It looks like tiny strands of cacti. Like asparagus, it tastes good having been quickly boiled and served with a little melted butter or some extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Boiling it quickly, gives it an intense bright green colour. Yet despite its intense greenness, Freddie enjoyed it - because he liked the texture. Early on in the vegetable challenge, he had discovered the joys of asparagus and so samphire was added to his "I like this" list on the Naming and Shaming Fridge. The first taste earned 8 out of 10.

Samphire with lemon and butter
Marsh samphire
Unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
Lemon or lime juice

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Wash and rinse it thoroughly. Add the samphire to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. If you prefer, you can steam it instead. Drain and add a knob of butter, douse with lemon juice and serve immediately. I recommend using unsalted butter if you have some, because the samphire is naturally salty in taste.

When we came home to London, our local fishmongers was selling some that had come from Brittany. Our second samphire recipe was another very simple dish: samphire with poached eggs on toast. The poached eggs must not be overcooked as the combination of runny egg yolk and samphire is delicious. Alex and Freddie consumed this so quickly by the time Chris and I had sat down to eat our meal, they were already asking for seconds. Samphire with poached egg on toast scored the maximum ten out of ten.

And the samphire adventure is about to continue as samphire is back in the fishmongers, farmed somewhere in Mexico. So how do you like your samphire?
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  1. Great post. I'm still giggling.

    I've never tried samphire. It grows here in Australia too, but very little is harvested. It would be great to try.

  2. that's hilarious. the intrepid things we do.

  3. Coming here is always an education! I've never even heard of samphire... not sure it's something that would be imported into my little community, but I'll keep an eye out for it, anyway.

    I wonder if I could grow it?

  4. Great Big Veg CHallenge3:21 PM

    Mrs W - I understand that it is farmed abroad - In Britain it is wild. I dont know where exactly you live but here it grows in estuaries and by the sea..

    KJ - Do try it. It is fantastic tasting - a lovely texture and if you can get hold of some it is lovely with fish.

    Maia - the Stupid things we do more like!!

  5. I've already starting researching it... looks like I can get a packet of seeds fairly easily. I live in a little town in the center of NY State--not known for its variety in cuisine, unfortunately!

  6. When I was in Alaska, I was served something called "sea asparagus," which I really liked. I wonder if it's the same thing?

    Congratulations on your book! How exciting!

  7. Mrs W - let me know how you get on - I am intrigues - dont you need a really wet estuary to grow it in?
    Nowheymama - Yes it is also known as sea asparagus - the same thing.
    It is like asparagus in texture and like a salty version of it

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  9. It was served to me as a cold vegetable salad with a mayonnaise dressing and crumbled bacon. Very, very good.

    And my apologies for not reading closely the first time around! Ok, I'm done now.

  10. How can something that is so fantastically green not be yummy. I've never had samphire, but will keep an eye out for some now.

  11. Hahah... I have a notoriously un-green thumb, so who knows what will happen! But I aim to give it a whirl.

    This is what I read on the internet when researching:

    Samphire prefers a dry well drained soil in full sun sheltered from cold winds, benefits from a salty soil. Habitat grows in rock crevices, rocky shores, shingle beaches.

    Seems it is also called Rock Samphire, Samphire Sea and Sea Fennel.

  12. To me samphire sounds incredible..nowhere to be found on the shores of Canada, but I do love asparagus and this sounds similar:D


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