Recipe: A taste of the sea

Smoked and fresh salmon with samphire and herb butter

Smoked and fresh salmon with samphire and herb butter - Credit: Archant

Smoked and fresh salmon with samphire and herb butter

It’s got an unmistakable salty taste all of its own and it’s a true East Anglian delicacy.

Samphire can be found in the tidal zone on muddy, sandy flats around Suffolk but is a real speciality of the north Norfolk coast.

This is marsh samphire, not to be confused with rock samphire that grows on cliffs. It looks like a minature cactus, but without the spines, and has a satisfying crunch when you bite into it. It is a unique wild plant that tastes of the sea.

Rock samphire is much harder to get to, requiring a huge amount of risk-taking as it is usually in high, out-of-the-way places. Rock Samphire was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Half-way down hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!” Needless to say, most samphire is of the marsh variety.

As a vegetable it is often eaten with fish but can be eaten on its own too. Try it with melted butter or the old Norfolk way - with vinegar and black pepper. It doesn’t need much cooking - just a few minutes in boiling water - but there are three things to remember when preparing samphire: rinse it, rinse it, rinse it! This gets rid of any grit and helps reduce its saltiness. Well, if you spent your life being washed by the tide you’d be a bit salty too!

Samphire is also known as glasswort, sea beans and baby asparagus. Whatever you do, don’t over-cook it.

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If you prefer, use farmed salmon, but it has none of the flavour of wild. The conservation of wild salmon stock is important, so it really needs to be eaten rarely and only as a treat.