June, July and August are the months to forage for marsh samphire, not to be mistaken for rock samphire, which grows on rocks on land and tastes completely different, I am told. Marsh samphire can be found in abundance in salt marshes and tidal mud flats on the British coast. You may have also come across it by one of it’s other names: glasswort (its name of old alluding to a time when it was used in making glass and soap); sea asparagus; Saint Peter’s herb (the Patron Saint of Fisherman) or it’s rather grand sounding Latin name ‘salicornia europaea’. I particularly like its less well known name of ‘Mermaid’s kiss’.
A few years back marsh samphire was not so easy to source in the shops, other than the fishmonger who would grace their fish displays with the vegetable from time to time. Recently I have seen it in the larger supermarkets in the UK being sold in packets on their fish counters. It’s relatively expensive for the amount you get, so if you happen to be on the British coast in the summer, it is well worth having a forage for the vegetable.
I’ve been spending the last week or so on the borders of Suffolk and Essex, which is perfect hunting ground. I initially came across some growing on the mudflats on Mersea Island and immediately gathered a small amount to prepare for when I returned home. The following day we were passing by the picturesque and historical village of Orford in Suffolk – well worth a detour on many levels – Richardson’s smokehouse, the great Pump Street Bakery, some fine pubs, a small castle, a grade I listed church with Norman remains and a sailing club – all civilised places have a sailing club don’t you find? I had read that Orford was the perfect place to forage for marsh samphire, so bucket and scissors in hand Big A, Mr B and I went a foraging.
It was not long before we spotted the easily identifiable marsh samphire sprouting up through the tidal mudflats. They almost look like miniature cacti, without any spines or sharp bits. When foraging though you need to be very careful not to pull out the whole plant as it will prevent it from growing further. Simply pinch off the top parts or use a pair of scissors, so that the fibrous stems and roots remain intact. You will find that the the samphire needs to be thoroughly washed a couple of times so that the mud, grit and general nasties are disposed of.
Whilst it can be eaten raw, I like to cook samphire – boil or steam for a couple of minutes, and then eat with a dollop of melting butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Absolutely no salt is needed as they taste of the sea so are more than sufficiently salty. They are rich in Vitamins A, C and D and taste similar to asparagus, albeit more salty!
They are also a perfect accompaniment for fresh fish and also lamb, although I rather like the way that this blogger has prepared their samphire – see here - Poached Eggs with Samphire and Honey Harissa. How good does that sound?
Are you able to forage samphire near you? Does it grown in your country? How do you eat it? I would love to know so write a comment below for us all to see.
Fresh Marsh Samphire with Butter and Lemon
A handful of fresh marsh samphire per person
knob of butter
1. Trim and wash the marsh samphire a couple of times so that all the mud, grit and stray seaweed is discarded.
2. Boil a large pan of water and place the samphire directly in the water (if steaming put into the steamer). Boil gently for 3 minutes and drain immediately.
3. Plate up and add a knob of butter to each serving and a lemon wedge on the side. Equally you can pre-melt the butter and pour it over the samphire. Both ways work equally well.
Eat immediately when it is hot and enjoy.
Remember no salt is needed.