Samphire is a lyrical word for an earthy and salty edible plant that grows along the seaside. It frequently keeps company with sea blite, sometimes called seepweed, and goose tongue, which also tastes of the sea.
All three are found along granite ledges, in salt marshes, and in flat spots that are just kissed by the high tide. They are easily identified. There really isn’t anything else looking remotely like sea blite or goose tongue, and while there are several varieties of samphire, all are edible. They are very easy to pick, simply break them off above the root.
It is early August, and samphire greens are abundant. They have a long season though, so you have well over a month to get out and forage for them. I don’t need an excuse to wander to the shore, but coming back with our evening’s vegetable helps me justify the excursion to my ever-vigilant inner voice, which sometimes accuses me of sloth.
Samphire, a species of Salicornia, is the deepest green of these three seaside greens. I find it has the crispest salty taste and is less fibrous than the others. It can be prepared like asparagus or fiddleheads–gently sautéed in butter with a grind of pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon, but I generally use smaller amounts as a garnish for fish, or added to salads. It is delicious, and at its most salty, when picked and eaten raw.
When used together, samphire, seepweed and goose tongue create a subtle and interesting contrast in color and texture. For an easy taste of Maine salad, add some to arugula from the garden, toss in a handful of tiny hard-boiled quail eggs, and dress with blueberry vinaigrette. The sweetness of the blueberry vinaigrette and the salt of the sea plants build that dizzying salty-sweet flavor that I can never get enough of.
Samphire is also called glasswort, because in Great Britain it was burned to produce soda ash which is used to make glass and soap. But the word samphire rolls more smoothly off the tongue, and a samphire Sapphire cocktail just sounds so much better than a glasswort Sapphire cocktail. The tangy salt of samphire with cool cucumber and astringent gin create a refreshing summer potion.
Whether you use it in an adult beverage, as a vegetable side, or a zesty relish and condiment, samphire is a salty delight that seasons our long August days.
- 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin, cold.
- ¼ cup Samphire greens (reserve a few twigs for garnish)
- ½ Large cucumber
- Equipment: yogurt or similar strainer, food processor
- Put cocktail glass of your choice in freezer for half an hour or more.
- Wipe the edge of glass with a cucumber slice rim it with seasalt (I use Zeasalt)
- Process ½ cucumber and the samphire greens (keeping back a few for garnish). Strain through a yogurt strainer into a bowl or cup. Add cold gin stir vigorously. Pour into cold glass, ad a few ice chips if you wish, and garnish with samphire.
Pulse 1/2 cup samphire, (just the top branches, not the stiff stalk near root) and 1/4 cup shallots with 1T honey, 2T cider vinegar,1/4 teaspoon celery seeds. S+P to taste.