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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Beauty in the Brine


I fell in love with a coastal delicacy last year that has kept me drooling in anticipation for the next season of marsh samphire to return. The small fleshy leaved plant that inhabits the marshes and tidal mudflats of Britain’s shores is very much seasonal and as yet still a wild and uncultivated plant, thus making it a very special food from June until the end of August.

It is gathered by hand, an arduous and back-aching task, by fishermen and shore workers to supplement their summer income.
When I was in North Norfolk, last year, I saw it growing and was tempted to pull on my wellies and venture out into the squelchy mud to pick some for myself. I’m aware that it is not always acceptable to do so, although it is not illegal, one has to consider respect for nature and the environment, especially as the samphire grows on protected habitats.
For this reason, the best samphire grounds are kept secret and only those with permission have access to the green bounty.


Samphire is a type of succulent, perfect for tolerating the salt from each inundating tide. It has short branching stems, with a strange joint-like structure that reminds me of little alien antennae.
As I don’t live on the coast, I don’t often get the chance to buy it. It’s a rare thing to find in the shops around my way, so I almost fell over with excitement when the fish stall at my monthly farmers market was selling it. I bought a couple of generous man-sized handfuls.
Good, fresh samphire should be bright green and shiny, still engorged with moisture. Avoid any that looks dull or withered. It should also smell fresh, tinged with the scent of sea air.

Before eating, it is important to wash it thoroughly in cold water to remove any gritty sand and silt. I took three good washings and drainings to get mine clean.
Samphire doesn’t take much cooking, you can indeed eat it raw, but I like to drop it briefly into boiling water, drain and toss in butter. Don’t add salt to the water and use unsalted butter – the samphire has been seasoned perfectly well by the sea. Finish with a grind of black pepper and eat.

Obviously, samphire is an ideal accompaniment to fish, being juicy, clean flavoured, with just a hint of the briny blue. The very essence of all that is good about our wild coastline.

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