It had been a while since I had eaten something for the very first time. Standing in the fish mongers’ with the baby screaming his head off, I spotted a small box of what I recognised as samphire. This green and salty marsh plant has been something of a trendy ingredient in recent years and I’d seen it make appearances on food shows that visited coastal towns. Apart from having what I think is a cool name, samphire really holds no other outward appeal to me. Having said that, as I collected my change from a purchase of squid, the fish monger followed my gaze towards the samphire resting in a box on the gleaming ice. “Samphire. Wanna try some?” Above the screams of my boy, I said, “Yes, please!” and picked a little to chew on. Salt, fresh grassy notes, something nearing asparagus? I quite liked it. All it needed was butter. “I’ll have that box too, please”, I shouted nodding at the green strands of something not quite sea and not quite land.
Samphire does not keep for long. The pressure was on to make (good) use of it. I had some nice basa fillets which I was sure would be a good starting point. Basa is Vietnamese cat-fish and is sustainable. I passed the boy (now quiet) to N and started to unpack my bags. N was happy when she saw the squid. She’d asked me to make some more spaghetti and squid, but she had a puzzled look on her face when I pulled out the box of samphire. “What have you got there?” she said, frowning. “Samphire! It tastes of the sea and I’m gonna cook it for us tomorrow!” N looked at me like I’d just exchanged our only cow for some magic beans. Yup, the pressure was on to make very good use of the samphire.
Simple is best. I made a samphire and lemon cream to pour over the basa fillets after I’d steamed them. I fried the rest of the samphire in butter and served it all with some boiled vegetables. Apart from the large amounts of butter, it was a well-balanced meal. Samphire really does love butter. N was very impressed with the samphire. Probably fearing it would be disgusting, she was pleasantly surprised. I was quietly smug because the samphire and lemon cream had been perfect for the fish and my decision to make it up as I went along had really paid off. Now all I need to do is figure out how to stop my son screaming in public and I’ll be living the dream.
Basa fillets with samphire & lemon cream
150ml double cream
2 tblspoons finely chopped samphire
Drizzle a little olive oil onto a piece of foil large enough to make a parcel around the basa fillet. If you love olive oil as much as I do, place the fillet on the foil and drizzle a little more on it. Grind a little black pepper on the fillet. Place it on a baking tray in the centre of the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for twenty-five minutes.
Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a milk pan and add the chopped samphire. I’d already rinsed the samphire a couple of times in cold water before chopping it to make sure that there wasn’t any sand in it. Cook the samphire for a few minutes before squeezing the juice of half the lemon into the pan. Next, stir in the double cream and add some pepper. Taste it. Samphire can be very salty, so you may not need to add any salt. I added a little salt because the cream was too bland at this point. If you need more lemon, add that too. A little at a time is best. Taste it after each addition. You can’t take it out once it is in, but you can always add more (I can hear my mum talking there).
Keep the heat gentle and stir the cream until you’re happy with the taste. Add the other half of the butter to the sauce and stir it until completely melted. You can add more butter if you like, but your arteries may not thank you.
The creamy sauce is actually quite light and doesn’t overpower the flavour of the basa. I served the fish with some samphire lightly fried in butter for two or three minutes. Yesterday, I read a post over at kidandkitchen about samphire and egg which was great. I think I might pair it with egg next time. What do you think? Have you tried samphire before?