As we most definitely turn to autumnal gales, I wanted to share this one last shining moment of summertime dining that I first discovered just a few weeks ago. That is the delicious, crunchy, salty and all around weird delicacy – SAMPHIRE! According to Wikipedia this edible sea grass (pronounced sam-fyre), was originally known as “sampiere” in honour of St. Pierre patron saint of fisherman. Also known as sea asparagus or sea pickle this vegetable is found on rocky coastal outcrops or their surrounding marshland, usually shrouded in a constant battering of northerly oceanic spray. Since those that gathered the samphire were in obvious need of a patron saint, perhaps they thought naming it after him would increase their survival rate.
Samphire is even mentioned in King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI) “Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!”. Just ponder that for a moment – your trade gets mentioned as dreadful … in King Lear…that’s gotta be a bench-mark of some kind. It was also used from the 14th century onwards in the production of both soap and glass making, giving rise to yet another of its names “glasswort”. This versatile green wonder is even being explored as a potential bio-diesel that can utilise area of coasts unsuitable for conventional crops. Huh, something new everyday.
In my travels to locate a local source for Scotland’s bounty of shellfish, I was directed to a truly fabulous fish monger, H.S. Murray’s in Inverkeithing . It is everything you want such a shop to be; it was bright and clean, the staff were friendly and very knowledgeable and they seemed genuinely happy to have you try something new or special order anything they didn’t currently have in stock – take that standard customer service. H.S. Murray’s also supply the fish and shellfish to the highly regarded Room with View Restaurant in the nearby town of Aberdour. (http://www.roomwithaviewrestaurant.co.uk/) I have yet to dine there myself but I will let you know when I do!
Anyway, back at H.S. Murray’s, in the span of about five minutes I had secured fresh, live langoustines, was given a free taste and brief history lesson of this nobbly weird plant I had never heard of before AND they offered to special order Phillips of Baltimore (http://www.phillipsseafood.com/) lump crab meat in a pasteurised tub – superb! (I even had to break up with my fish van man who came to my door every Thursday as a result of this discovery, it was tragic for all but we are all moving on as best we can.)
I brought my new culinary conquest home for closer inspection and to see what I could do to best showcase its texture, crunch and flavour. For me there was something evocative of sushi in its raw brininess so I went to work experimenting. I didn’t want to lose any colour or crunch, but coastal rocks and marshes can be home to fair amount of cooties so I thought some cooking was in order.
I opted for a treatment similar to mange-tout/sugar snap peas and decided to get a pan up to a rolling boil and just dropped the samphire in for about 5-10 seconds.
Working speedily, I tossed the lot into a strainer and then straight into a prepared ice bath to give it a good shock and stop the cooking process. After a minute or two or until I was sure there was no heat left in the samphire I drained everything again and placed on a pile of kitchen roll/paper towel for a wee blot dry.
As I said there was something in the Asian/Oriental taste range that was calling to me, so after a quick rummage in my cupboard I chose these favourites; sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chilli flakes and ginger. Please note that while I do always use fresh garlic in my cooking, I have long since given up keeping fresh, frozen or jarred ginger in my house. I can not tell you the number of times I find I am either without this crucial ingredient, have an open jar of an undisclosed age or have over-purchased a supply only to find a withered voodoo doll on the door of my fridge. I have proudly opted for the squeezy tube of ‘fresh’ ginger which is on hand and at the ready at all times.
I quick toss of the ingredients and I was happy with the taste. I do like things quite strongly flavoured so please tinker until it is to your taste, but this would work well with a cold noodle and vegetable salad with maybe some chicken and fresh coriander/cilantro, mmm. As always, the recipe for the dressing makes more than you need for this dish so use the extra to experiment.
And of course just to gild the lily (which a criticism in the UK and a compliment in the States…I thought it might make a good name for a catering company one day…) I toasted a few raw sesame seed on the stove top for garnish.
Drizzle a few spoonfuls of the dressing over the samphire, toss to coast and garnish with the toasted sesame seed. And go on, add a bit of fresh lemon or lime right before serving for that extra level of brightness. This dish work very well as a side with salmon or maybe some lamb to cut the richness of the main dish.
If you happen to cross paths with the positively pre-cambrian looking samphire, be sure to give it a try and I am sure you will be the better for the experience!
- Blended Sesame Oil (1/2 toasted, 1/2 raw) - 4 Tablespoons
- Soy Sauce - 1 Tablespoon
- Rice Wine Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
- Ginger, minced - 1/2 teaspoon
- Dried Red Chilli Flakes - 1/8 teaspoon
- Toasted Sesame Seeds
- Place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk to blend. Feel free to adjust to suit your own taste.