Marsh samphire: first remove the woody stalks.
A few weeks ago I was seen leaving a restaurant lunch with a brown paper bag. It wasn’t full of money although you could call it a bribe. It contained a couple of handfuls of samphire, which sell uncleaned at about $25 a kilo to restaurants.
Samphire is a cross between a succulent and seaweed. It comes in different varieties some, called Marsh Samphire, which grows on salt flats and Rock Samphire, which grows on cliffs.
I’m not sure that anybody has used this weird source of nourishment yet in Weekend Herb Blogging, which this week is being hosted by Cooking in Westchester and is the brainchild of Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen fame.
Samphire is one of those ancient very British foods that is just becoming fashionable in Melbourne. Shakespeare cited it growing on the cliffs at Dover. I and am sure I remember stories of Henry the Eighth having people abseil down cliffs to collect it. Off with their heads if they didn’t.
I first ate this is London years ago. In Melbourne it was only a few months ago at a dinner to celebrate all the wonderful produce from the Bellarine Peninsula on Port Phillip Bay that I rediscovered it.
A local chef, Nigel Pittman from the Ol’ Duke in Portarlington, had hand-picked some from Swan Bay. Both he and I upset a local environmental organisation, me apparently for encouraging people to pick it. Apparently, Swan Bay samphire shouldn’t be picked as it is in a protected zone. And besides, the orange-bellied parrot feeds on it. And I don’t want any dead parrots in this story. That would be far too much of a cliché.
I’ve noticed samphire since on the menu at local restaurants including The Botanical, Becco, Donovans, Interlude and even out of town in Daylesford at The Lakehouse. I suspect it all comes from the same source of my paper bag.
According to the World Wide Gourmet:
“Originally “sampiere” from the French “Saint Pierre”. Samphire – the word is a corruption of St. Peter – was named for the patron of fishermen because it grows in rocky salt-sprayed regions along the sea coast. It can also be found in coastal marsh areas.”
“Samphire is known for its digestive and anti-flatulent properties. Culpepper wrote in the 17th century that samphire was useful in curing ailments relating to “ill digestions and obstructions,” while being “very pleasant to taste and stomach.” It also contains diuretic and depurative properties and is rich in iodine, phosphorus, calcium, silica, zinc, manganese and vitamins A, C and D.”
Remove the woody stalky bits. The best parts are the young shoots. Older shoots can have stringy bits inside them. But as we were eating at home we didn’t mind this such is our love of samphire. We just sucked the flesh off the string.
The younger shoots can be served raw in a salad. As I have a mix of old and young I simply blanched the lot in hot water for 30 seconds to one minute.
You don’t need to add any salt because it tastes so salty, like the essence of the sea, which is the taste of Iodine (as with Oysters).
I served it with a simple grilled flounder and served with a simple beurre blanc. Because of the strengthof flavour of the samphire very little additional seasoning is needed.