All You Need to Know About Samphire

Salty Samphire. Getty Images

I've never forgotten the first time I encountered samphire. I was on a beach in Norfolk, eastern England, the fish van was selling locally caught fish and the seller asked if I wanted samphire with it. (samphire is famous in Norfolk, not where I lived). Not knowing what is was, I asked to try it. I did and I have loved its salty, spiky taste ever since. Just one bite now and I am instantly back on that breezy Norfolk beach.

What is Samphire?

There are two types of samphire - marsh and​ rock.  Marsh samphire is the more common and resembles tiny shoots of asparagus but grows on muddy, sandy flats, often around estuaries and tidal creeks.  And ,as you can imagine from the location, it has a delicious salty taste.

Rock samphire is much trickier and 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!"

Most samphire is of the marsh variety.

How Do I Eat Samphire?

Since the days when I first tasted samphire, it has become fashionable, The wild stuff I once ate is now harvested around  many British shores where once it would have been ignored. Norfolk though is still considered the best.

Without a doubt freshness is paramount to the enjoyment, and once away from the water it will diminish fairly quickly.

Many supermarkets will now sell samphire, some year round. This is not the same as fresh seasonal Norfolk samphire which is available  only in July and August.

Enjoyable as it is to be simply plucked and eaten, samphire works so well alongside many foods, of course, fish but it is a good partner to  a dish of lamb, cutting neatly through the fat.

Add samphire to your salad for add texture and nutrients.  In Norfolk, samphire is traditionally served with vinegar and black pepper. I love this Turksh recipe for Samphire with Olive Oil.

How to Cook Samphire

The slight resemblance samphire has to asparagus cannot go unnoticed. The appearance is not dissimilar but they do differ in size considerably; samphire is tiny. Though it can be eaten raw, samphire,  like asparagus, is delicious lightly steamed and served with butter and makes a great accompaniment to fish and seafood as mentioned above. The main thing to consider when cooking samphire is to rinse it thoroughly to remove any grit and excess salt.

What Does Samphire Mean?

The name samphire is a corruption of "Saint Pierre" - St. Peter - the patron saint of fishermen.

Other Names for Samphire

Samphire is also known as Glasswort, sea beans and baby asparagus.