Firstly, there are two forms of samphire. Rock samphire is the broader leafed, fuller flavoured and rather spicy version that was once highly prized and lends itself well to pickling. Scarcer than in its heyday and moderately difficult to harvest from cliffs and rocks along coastal regions, it is an ingredient well worth seeking when out on a seaside walk. The more singular flavoured and coral like marsh samphire has taken over in popularity due to abundance and ease. It has a fantastic colour when blanched in boiling water for a minute or so, a lovely crunch and a sea salty freshness that dictates its pairing with all manner of fish dishes. It also compliments lamb, salads and a great last minute addition to a chunky seafood chowder. Marsh samphire was also a very popular source of soda for glassmaking, hence its other name- glasswort. Collected by hand in the summer months from the edges of tidal creeks, marsh samphire truly is one of those easy, free foods. Whatever your preference, true samphire and glasswort should be considered two of the real heroes of the South West larder, harvested for nothing and eaten with pride and gusto.
Here we have a few dishes that showcase what a great additive marsh samphire can be as a flavour enhancer similar to a caper or gherkin, a colour booster and an integrity injector to any menu.
Getting in with someone that knows their tomatoes and plants a wide variety of old school viners is a must. It really lifts even the simplest of capreses to have a cross section of shapes and colours to a simple tomato dish. Some seasoned ricotta is dotted about the tomatoes that have been tossed in sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. My love affair with celery leaf is well documented and is unsurprising in its inclusion. Mwah. Note: Bear in mind when working with samphire, it is salty. The seasoning of the other ingredients may need to lowered somewhat to compensate the overall mouthfeel.
The usual potato salad is a rather depressing thing. Drenched in poor quality mayonnaise, over cooked watery potatoes and a few scattered onions.
Sweet and earthy new potatoes such as Cornish Earlies or Jersey Royals have a nuttiness that should be accented rather than hidden. Whether you prefer waxy or floury, give a new potato a bit more love and put your thinking cook’s cap on. Here, I’ve interspersed the samphire with shaved fennel, ruby grapefruit, radish, orange, goats’ cheese, soft herbs and, (surprise, surprise) celery leaf to bash together a radiant summer melange of colours, flavour bursts and texture contrasts. Begging to start off a meal with a crisp white or rose.
Salmon ‘Mi Cuit’, Pickled Beetroot & Citrus
This is a dish very dear to our hearts at Southernhay House. My apprentice Nick Clifford; along with fellow apprentice from our newly opened neighbor, Chapter Magdalen, placed third this year in the UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year this past April. This was their intermediary course and it really is a winner. The salmon is cooked sous vide, showcasing the velvet texture of the oily fish and is aptly garnished by lightly pickled candy beets, citrus segments and blanched samphire. Visually stunning and a real treat to eat. Well done lads on your first ‘signature’ dish.
Devon Mackerel Teriyaki, Noodle Salad & Samphire
I love teriyaki. It really is such a handy thing to have tucked away in the fridge. A nice break from the usual condiment, shelf life is near eternal and it just tastes damn good on almost everything. Cold or hot, thick or thin teriyaki is superb with fish or meat, the only trick is to bear in mind when cooking with this sugary sauce, the primary ingredient can easily burn. Your goal is a nice crusty char but use care. Here, I’ve brushed the mackerel fillet in the sauce and quickly cooked in a hot pan with a little sunflower oil. The egg noodles are dressed with lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, spring onion and of course, samphire. The arrangement of the lightly pickled carrot and cucumber beneath is visually effective, yet very tasty and in keeping with the rest of the dish. A few sesame seeds, a bit of applicable cress, drizzle drizzle...et voila.
200ml soy sauce
100gm brown sugar
1 crushed garlic cloves
1 star anise
1 small knob of peeled ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 zest and juice of a large orange
-Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and and reduce to the desired thickness.
-Gently coat meat or fish before frying or grilling and add more as needed/desired throughout cooking or depending on the size of ingredient.
Artichokes, Broad Beans, Goats’ Cheese & Samphire
This is another one of those, ‘have a look about, see what’s good and colourful, toss it all together and enjoy.’ The only set recipe would be that it looks and tastes fresh and summery. Young globe artichokes have been charred and combined with blanched broad beans, Vulscombe goats’ cheese, oven roasted beefsteak tomatoes, new potatoes and butter beans. Mixed together in a big bowl with a lemony olive or rapeseed oil, seasoning, soft herbs of choice and, of course the hero of the day...samphire. Very Mediterranean, tasty and a winner to keep the ever angsty vegetarians at bay.
Note: As with all foraging, care needs to be taken regarding the natural environment. Correct picking; ensuring the crop returns, trod lightly, and ensure you have 'right of way' concerning wild crops. Check with your local authority or nature groups if unsure.
An edited version of this article featured in Devon Life Magazine 2012.