“Back alleys, supermarket aisles, untapped phone conversations, confession boxes… I have no idea where the samphire discussions are taking place but I want to be a part of it”.
Just when I think my palette is versatile in its flavour adventures, every now and then an ingredient will crop up that has never crossed my tongue and it changes my life. Okay, that’s slightly dramatic, but I have to admit that trying new things will always open my eyes to brand new things to introduce to my kitchen armoury. One should never not be open to trying new things. If you stick to what you know, you’ll always get what you’ve had. This is not a system I ever want to confine myself to. I say all this to ask you: have you ever tried samphire?
I understand there may be a lot of you reading this and thinking that samphire is the most basic ingredient ever and that you use it often but I haven’t and don’t and I want to enlighten those in the same situation. So my friend Lowri and I were casually browsing in a supermarket and buying food (I say food, it was more like snacks and alcohol) for a slobbed evening in front of the TV. We found ourselves in the vegetable aisle (God knows why) before she turned to me and asked ‘Have you ever tried samphire?’.
I nearly fell to the floor. I had absolutely no idea what it was that she spoke of but I found myself intrigued. Was it an animal? It sounded like a fish? Is it a legume? It actually sounds like a spice? I told her I hadn’t. She told me she had heard about it from our other friend Bronwen and suddenly I felt as though it was some city club that was password accessed and I felt extremely left outside in the cold. All I knew was that I was suddenly samphire’s biggest fan and needed to be on-board the frenzy.
Two people isn’t a frenzy, but that’s not the issue here.
She suddenly snatched a plastic box from the vegetable aisle that contained what can only be described as some kind of miniature underwater tree branches. A tangle of emerald twigs that bore slight resemblance to fir tree branches. She looked around at nearby shop assistants (who couldn’t have cared less) before opening the box, snatching a fingerful and chewing. Ever hoodwinked under peer pressure, I followed suit and snatched for myself.
What I tasted was amazing. Crisp and salty and everything my mouth needed at that time. It was almost like a slightly saltier asparagus. Like thin, salted asparagus chip sticks? It was weird. And wonderful. And all I wanted to do was find out what to do with it. I found out (thanks to the packet) that it could be steamed or boiled. I had other plans but that was neither here nor there. I grabbed a box and suffice to say my friend and I consumed 80% of the box as we strolled around the store.
So with story time over, let’s get to cooking. I decided to pair the samphire with the family ingredient I felt it belonged with and that’s seafood. Cod is 100% flexible in how it can drink up flavours so marring it with the samphire allowed me flexibility with other flavours to introduce. I brought in my favourite holy trinity: salty, sweet and spicy for a well-balanced meal that ticks all the boxes I wanted it to.
And I threw in rice. You know, just because.
Preheat your oven to 200C. Grab yourself a big piece of foil and place your cod fillet on it, curling up the sides of the foil. We’re marinating the fish in a foil packet, so you want those edges curled up high enough to not let liquids roll out. On to the fish fillet, pour in a little bit of soy sauce and squeeze in the juice of a lime. Scrape the skin from a nice long piece of ginger and slice it into a cute little thin slices. Throw into the foil bag. Scrunch the corners of the foil together so that you have a handy little ‘bag’. Put to one side.
Get yourself your favourite rice (I went for wild rice) and cook as per packet instruction. Boring way to start a recipe, but there you have it. Once the rice hits boiling point, take it off the heat and allow to cook by itself for about 15/20 minutes. At this point, shove your fish foil parcel into the oven to steam nicely for the same amount of time the rice takes to cook.
About ten minutes into the cooking time, BRING IN THE SAMPHIRE. Grab a nice, big frying pan (wok if you want) and heat up a little bit of butter before grating in a garlic clove. Once the butter has melted and mixed with the garlic, throw in some chopped spring onions along with a sliced chili. Heat a little – not too long otherwise your spring onions will mush – before throwing in a nice juicy handful of your samphire. Toss everything regularly. Finally, drizzle in a little honey to balance the spice, sweetness and saltiness.
After 20 minutes has passed, plate up your rice. I did something fancy with a little cup that shapes the rice into a dome but don’t be as pretentious if you don’t want too. Take your fish parcel out of the oven and place the fish on the plate. Pour any lime soy juices and ginger into the pan of samphire and give a final mix before emptying on to the plate with the rice. Place your fish on top and serve.
Samphire, it seems to me, is word of mouth. I don’t see it in many cookbooks and I don’t hear many people talk about it. It’s done in secret. Back alleys, supermarket aisles, untapped phone conversations, confession boxes… I have no idea where the samphire discussions are taking place but I want to be a part of it. Cook this and tell a friend. It’s the only way we can be sure that samphire gets the notice it deserves.