With over 90 miles of ridiculously beautiful beaches here in Norfolk, as you’d expect, there are some rather delicious things that come from these waters. Including a rather exquisite sea vegetable called samphire, which locals pronounce as sam-phur (not sam-fire).
It’s almost the season for talking about samphire. I wrote about it a couple of years ago in my Sainsbury’s magazine article and then spoke about this local delicacy on an interview with Share Radio. Shortly afterwards it occurred to me that I’ve never actually blogged about foraging for it. Here we are two years on and I still have lots to say about this incredible ingredient, which was my favourite vegetable as a child.
There’s part of me that wanted to keep it a secret but then I reflected on this and thought it was good to share the love and to impart a few tips on how to respectfully forage, be kind to the environment, to ensure samphire stocks are able to replenish each year.
So here is my heart on a plate, served up to you. A few tips on foraging for, preparing and cooking with my beloved samphire.
Samphire season in Norfolk
Although I hear you can find samphire in parts of Suffolk and in other parts of the UK including Wales, marsh samphire can be found in abundance in salt marshes and tidal mud flats in North Norfolk. The seasons starts around June and ends in September but I always find the best samphire is harvested in August.
My family has foraged for samphire for quite a few years now and during the summer months most evenings will consist of delicious samphire suppers. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve foraged yourself, food that didn’t cost you anything and food from the land where you were born.
It’s really important to be mindful when foraging, to make sure you’re respectful of the land and that you leave nature as you’ve found it. Even if you’re taking away some of nature’s fruits, you make sure you handle the plants carefully so that regrowth isn’t harmed in any way.
What to take
Foraging for samphire can be a messy sport so take with you:
- A pair of wellies or old boots
- Carrier bags
- A pair of scissors
- An old towel to dust yourself off afterwards
- Stamina! Collecting samphire can be quite a work-out
When to go
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 very different.
How to forage
Found around Stiffkey and other sandy flats around the Norfolk coastline, you’ll easily spot bunches of samphire petruding from the sandy flats.
The most important tip to remember when foraging for samphire is to make sure you pinch off the top parts or use a pair of scissors, so that the fibrous stems and roots remain intact. By leaving the root behind ensures regrowth next year and beyond. If everyone removed the stalks, eventually the supplies would diminish.
Only pick as much as you can eat. Samphire is at its best up to 3-5 days after you’ve picked it. So only pick around a large handful per serving, so three large handfuls per person. This will last you for three meals.
Below: Stunning Stiffkey captured by my Dad on camera recently
Samphire needs to be thoroughly washed a couple of times so that the mud, grit and general nasties are disposed of.
When you’re ready to cook your samphire, wash your bunches yet again to make sure all the debris has been cleaned away as you sometimes find a seaweed film or excess mud.
Cut up into manageable small bunches – enough for about one or two mouthfuls – before placing in boiling water for around 5 minutes. Sometimes it takes a few minutes more, it depends on how fresh it is and if it’s young samphire. It can sometimes take a little less too. So after 4 minutes and then at one minute intervals, check your samphire and once the green flesh comes away from the bright green stem, it’s cooked!
Do not add any salt to the cooking process, there’s around 0.8mg of naturally-occurring sodium per 100g! If you had a baby or a toddler like we do, remember that until children are 3 years old, they can’t have more than 0.8g of salt per day. A 50g portion for bubs is plenty anyway.
The samphire nutritional values are significant. Rich in vitamins A, C and D, samphire has virtually no fat but is also rich in many minerals which are needed in extremely small quantities for our overall health. A 100g portion of samphire will provide only 100 calories and contains no saturated fat.
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned your samphire, make sure it’s dry and then place in individual plastic freezer bags and store in the fridge.
Recently we experimented with freezing samphire. It actually freezes pretty well! We’ve only consumed the samphire for up to a month stored in the freezer so I’ll just recommend this length of time for now but it could possible freeze for up to three months.
How do you eat samphire?
So how do you actually eat it? It’s easy really. Although restaurants will prepare samphire for you very differently, I prefer the more rustic approach! Let your lips and teeth do the work. Literally. Although, the spiky bright green “skeleton” of this plant isn’t edible, the soft cooked samphire flesh will slide off easily once cooked. I prefer to eat samphire the this way. Steamed or boiled small handheld pieces with butter, lemon juice and black pepper. Take the stem and bite into the bunch, using your teeth and mouth, the samphire will easily slide off the stalk.
Although the restaurants will prepare samphire for you, served up as small delicate pieces without any stalk or stem to wrestle with, this means you only get a small amount on your plate and it isn’t half as much fun or tasty!
Cooking with samphire
Packed with minerals, samphire or “poor man’s asparagus” is food of the gods. Not to be confused with rock samphire, eat this marsh variety on its own with lots of butter or olive oil and lemon juice, with any fish or the old Norfolk way, with black pepper and vinegar.
It’s the perfect partner to fish. Below is of a meal I had a while ago in Norwich. Yes, I actually keep pictures of my meals dating back three years.
It honestly goes with absolutely anything. Last week we had warm quiche with new potatoes and samphire and it’s wonderful as pictured in the below supper my partner made us one evening, with a homemade fish cake and topped with a poached egg, crushed cheesy baby potatoes and asparagus.
My other favourite ways of eating samphire:
Samphire, new potato and poached egg supper
Boil some local new potatoes and cut each one in half. Drain and set to once side. Take some cooked samphire and with your fingers pull off the fleshy green, leaving behind the stalks and “skeleton”. In a pan melt some butter and pan fry your cooked new potatoes and samphire for a few minutes. Add some pepper and a small amount of lemon juice and serve. Top with a poached or fried egg on top. Delicious served with a glass of crisp white wine.
Samphire, chilli and crab spaghetti
Pan fry some crushed garlic and a whole finely chopped chilli. Then add, cooked spaghetti (enough for two), some olive oil, the meat of a whole dressed crab, a finely diced chilli, a small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley or chopped coriander, whichever you prefer, and of course two generous handfuls of cooked samphire taken off the skeleton. You could also add a splash of white wine and some cream. Toss together and cook in the frying pan for a couple of minutes. Top with a handful of pea shoots, rocket or as I have above some baby kale. And a drizzle of oil. Garlic bruchetta optional.
Where else can you find samphire in Norfolk?
During the summer months in Norfolk you can also find samphire in various fishmongers, in some farmers markets (especially those near the coast), on Norwich Market or in North Norfolk – just follow the roadside signs leading to small sellers.
If you liked this post, you might also want to check out a piece I wrote for The Lady magazine recently. It’s all about how to Eat the Seasons and what veg and fruit to look out for this summer.