There are several different edible plants carrying the name “Samphire”, but all share similar taste and characteristics and can be prepared the same way. It is a salt tolerant plant that grows in coastal areas and in salt marshes, and all that salt is evident in the taste. Sometimes called sea asparagus, it too has fleshy stems and leaves, although much thinner than true asparagus, and it does taste a little like it – mixed with a fresh grassy flavour, along with the saltiness mentioned above.
It is good value in the kitchen, as there is usually no waste, although later in the season it can become a little “woody” at the base of the stem, so these can either be trimmed, or the juices sucked and stripped of the stem through your teeth as you do with artichoke leaves.
Traditionally, in Britain, it is sold in fishmongers, partly because of its association with the sea, and because it is a great veg to have with fish – but it is a very useful all-rounder, and is very good with lamb in particular.
As with most vegetables, don’t overcook – you want to preserve the flavour and the texture, leaving a “bite” (al dente) so cook for the minimum time.
How to cook Samphire
Use it raw in salads etc – no cooking required, obviously, but if it is too salty for your palate (try a bit), then soak it in cold water for half an hour or so.
Boil – dropped into plenty of boiling (unsalted) water, for a minute or so, just until heated through. You can, of course, steam if you prefer – remembering that steaming usually takes a little longer. Boiled or steamed samphire can be served plain, but why not try the traditional sauces for asparagus, such as hollandaise, or just simple melted butter poured over.
Sauted in butter – melt a knob of butter in a good pan, and tip in the samphire when the butter starts to foam, but before it begins to burn. No salt required, but a grind or two of black pepper is good, as is a little minced or finely sliced garlic.
Add to a mixed stir fry - it adds a great taste and texture, and the saltiness seasons the whole dish. Or, make it the feature of a stir fry, whisking it around the wok with a little fresh finely sliced or grated ginger, garlic, and maybe some cashew nuts.