Samphire has many guises. Up north it's known as "samphi", other parts of the country refer to it as "sea grass" and those who want to posh it up a bit call it "sea asparagus" or "asperge de mer". To most of us, however, it's just good old marsh samphire. It is a wonderfully versatile vegetable and although it is becoming more commonly seen in shops and supermarkets (I noticed that Waitrose were selling it a couple of months ago), most of us don't really know what to do with it. The most natural use of samphire is probably as a garnish or as an accompaniment to fish but it also makes a great addition to vegetarian pastas, risottos and omelettes. As it grows close to the sea on estuary banks and salt marshes it possesses its own natural saltiness, so you rarely need to do too much to it, except to give it a light blanching.
Samphire and brown shrimp patties
These make great little snacks for drinks parties or you could serve a couple of larger ones as a dinner-party starter with a dollop of crème fraîche on top. If you can't get hold of brown shrimps then don't panic – just chop up some cooked, shelled prawns and use those instead.
80g of samphire with any woody ends removed
60g brown shrimps in the shell
80g self-raising flour
1 small egg, beaten
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Salt and cayenne pepper
Olive oil for frying
Bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the samphire for 30 seconds, then drain and refresh under the cold tap and dry on some kitchen paper.
Mix the egg and flour in a bowl and add enough milk to form a thick pouring-consistency batter.
Mix in the samphire, shrimps and spring onion and season with the salt and cayenne pepper.
Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a
large heavy or non-stick frying pan and drop a spoonful at a time of the batter into the pan to form little patties. Cook them on a medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side or until crisp, then remove and drain on some kitchen paper.
Repeat with the rest of the mixture then re-heat in the oven or under the grill.
Rump of salt marsh lamb with samphire and sea beet
Lamb that naturally grazes on salt marshes has a beautifully rich flavour, and because samphire grows in the same kind of terrain, it seemed an obvious thing to match the two up for this recipe. If you can't get your hands on salt marsh lamb then normal lamb will do.
Sea beet or sea spinach is abundant on our beaches and coastal paths and it often just gets ignored. But it's well worth gathering and I'm sure it will be the best spinach you have ever tasted.
4 rumps of lamb weighing about 160-200g each, or 2 larger ones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
100-150g samphire with any woody ends removed
A handful or so of sea beet with any thick stems removed, washed and dried
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Heat a little of the vegetable oil in a frying pan, season the rumps of lamb and fry them on a high heat and brown them on all sides.
Transfer to a roasting tray and cook in the oven for about 15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink; then remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the sea beet for 2-3 minutes with a lid on, until tender, stirring every so often and seasoning with a little freshly ground black pepper.
Add the samphire and cook for another 30 seconds or so.
To serve, spoon the sea beet and samphire on to warmed serving plates, then cut each rump of lamb into 3 or 4 slices and lay on top.
Sea trout and samphire broth
It's not generally recommended that you make a fish stock with the bones from sea trout or salmon – they don't produce a very clear stock because they are oily fish. But it's such a shame to throw salmon and trout bones away, and I find that if you blanch the bones first and then make a stock as normal, you end up with a good stock which is ideal for a soup like this.
You could make this with a couple of sea trout or salmon tails, which are often better value than the prime cuts of salmon, or you could just ask your fishmonger for some salmon bones.
For the stock
Sea trout or salmon bones (see above), washed
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1tsp fennel seeds
1ltr fish stock
For the soup
A piece of sea trout or salmon fillet
50-60g samphire with the woody ends removed
3-4tbsp double cream
Put the sea trout bones into a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then drain and refresh under the cold tap.
Return the bones to the pan with the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, then drain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan.
Bring the stock back to a simmer and poach the sea trout or salmon fillet for 2-3 minutes, then remove the fish and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour; stir on a low heat for 10-15 seconds, then whisk the flour mixture into the simmering stock and continue simmering for another 15 minutes, giving it an occasional whisk along the way. Add the double cream and re-season if necessary.
Add the samphire and simmer for another minute. To serve, re-heat the sea trout or salmon for a minute or so in the soup, remove and break into chunks and arrange in the centre of warmed soup plates, then pour the soup and samphire over.