For several years I've been visiting places like West Mersea island in search of sea vegetables like samphire, sea spinach and sea purslane, then stopping off at the Company Shed for some local seafood. I can't resist gathering free food from the sea-shore, so it seemed appropriate to invent my own Essex seafood salad.
So few people gather these vegetables these days, and unless you're in the know it's not that easy to make this dish for nothing. But you can get pretty close if you're on the coast this summer. Check first where and what you're allowed to pick. You can also add any cooked shellfish, such as whelks, lobster or prawns.
A handful (about 200-250g) of cockles
A handful (about 200-250g) of mussels, washed and de-bearded
1 squid or cuttlefish tube, about 200g, cleaned and tentacles reserved
A handful of small sea spinach leaves, or baby spinach, washed, stalks removed
A handful of sea purslane or rock samphire, washed, and with any woody stalks picked off (if you can't get these, use regular purslane)
A handful of samphire, woody stalks removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the oyster vinaigrette
2 oysters, shucked
Juice of half a lemon
2tbsp each of olive oil and vegetable oil, or 4tbsp rapeseed oil
Put the cockles in a bowl of cold water for about 1 hour, giving them a vigorous stir with your hands every so often. Then give them a final rinse and drain. Put the cockles in a pan with a splash of white wine, cover with a lid and cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, giving the pan a shake every so often, until they are all open. Remove the cockles with a slotted spoon and leave to cool.
Put the mussels in the same liquid the cockles were in and cook just as you did the cockles. Remove from the pan and leave to cool. Strain the juices through a fine meshed sieve and reserve for the oyster dressing. Score the squid or cuttle fish in a criss-cross fashion about 2-3mm deep on each side and cut into rough 3-4cm chunks. Heat the oil in a frying pan, season the squid and cook on a medium heat, stirring every so often, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
To make the vinaigrette, put the oysters in a pan with the cockle and mussel juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 seconds; remove from the heat. Put the oysters and juice into a liquidiser, then blend with the other ingredients for the dressing and season.
Arrange the leaves on plates with the fish and spoon the dressing over.