Samphire - An introduction
Samphire is a little known but delicious vegetable that grows on the marshes predominantly in Northern Europe. It has recently been given a boost by the enthusiasm of TV chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver.
There are 2 predominant types of samphire - marsh samphire and rock samphire - it is generally considered to be at its 'eating' best from June through to September when the plant is tender.
Similar to miniature cacti, marsh samphire can sometimes be found in reputable fishmongers and increasingly with the backing of celebrity chefs, in supermarkets. However by far the most satisfying way to obtain these hardy marsh plants is to gather them yourself at low tide. Take along a pair of wellington boots though, it's a very muddy, but fun activity. One of the best places to find samphire is definitely on the Norfolk coastline on the East coast of England.
Rock samphire is a very hard to find plant, widely associated with both with parsley and fennel, in fact it is sometimes referred to as sea fennel. It has an earlier season than marsh samphire and is in season through spring, instead of summer. Samphire addicts are very enthusiastic (sometimes extremely so) about the superior taste of rock samphire, however it really is next to impossible to find, and marsh samphire with its distinctive saltiness will make an excellent substitute.
Medicinal Properties of Samphire
Samphire is also well known for its digestive and anti-flatulent properties. Culpepper wrote in the 17th century about it and also commented on its great taste. It has diuretic properties and is loaded with iodine, calcium, zinc plus other minerals along with vitamins A, C and D. When pickled, it was often used by seamen on long sea voyages to battle scurvy.
How to Cook Samphire
The tender stalks of fresh samphire, picked in May or June, can be eaten uncooked, plain or with a simple vinaigrette, alone or in a salad or along with other ingredients. As the season progresses samphire can become bitter and it is better to blanch it for a few minutes in boiling water. This is frequently called "poor man's asparagus," and is mouth watering when boiled and served alone or sautéed in a pan along with butter and garlic as a side dish for fish or meat. Pickled samphire is popular with Norfolk people and is excellent with cold fish and meats.