This native plant has a saltwater tang that teams perfectly with fish.
What is it?
Often called the asparagus of the sea, this native succulent has a salty seawater flavour and green stems. Marsh samphire, also known as glasswort (Salicornia europaea), grows in coastal areas during the summer months but is also cultivated by the entrepreneurial Snowy River Station and Outback Pride. Mike Quarmby of Outback Pride says the fresh, young tips have a great texture, like green noodles. ''Their natural saltiness means you need less additional salt or soy in your cooking.''
Where is it?
Alla Wolf-Tasker of Lake House in Daylesford uses Snowy River samphire to add a briny, saltwater flavour to black bream with Portarlington mussels, squid-ink farfalle and mussel saffron broth.
''I use it almost as I would capers,'' she says.
The pioneering Ben Shewry uses responsibly foraged rock samphire at Ripponlea's Attica in a variety of dishes, while at South Yarra's Steer Bar & Grill, chef Shaun Nielsen serves samphire with other green vegetables - peas, sugar snaps, saltbush, warrigal greens and green beans. He also puts it to good use as a garnish for fish.
''We tend to use it as a seasoning rather than a vegetable, to add a salty, briny tang,'' Nielsen says.
His tip? ''Use it as a natural seasoning when you're baking whole fish, but use it sparingly.''
The trail-blazing Kylie Kwong has long used samphire as part of her stir-fried greens, and currently runs a special of yabbies with sea parsley, samphire and XO sauce.
The market-driven menu at Cafe Opera at the Intercontinental Sydney teams it with oak-smoked Tasmanian trout with candied beet, piquillo vinegar and lemon sea-salt creme fraiche.
"I like it best when it is very young and green," says executive sous chef Julien Pouteau. "At home, I cook king salmon or barramundi with spices, then toss samphire in the saute pan for a minute or two to serve with it."
At Flying Fish in Pyrmont, executive chef Stephen Seckold often adds samphire to Chatham Island hapuka, along with white-balsamic pink fir potatoes, grapes, hazelnuts and native saltbush leaves.
Giovanni Pilu, of Pilu at Freshwater, prefers to use it with meat such as rabbit; first slow cooking the meat, then shredding it to serve in a parcel with fregola, turnips, dandelion, samphire and herbs.
"I use samphire almost like a seasoning" he says.
Why do I care?
Because it's a great native food with a natural affinity for seafood. It's full of phytochemicals that protect the body from disease.
Can I do this at home?
Yes, just blanch briefly in boiling unsalted water and throw into salads, fold into omelets, or serve with fish curries, seafood crudo and potato dishes.
Steer Bar & Grill, 637 Chapel Street, South Yarra, 9040 1188
Lake House, 4 King Street, Daylesford, (03) 5348 3329
Attica, 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, 9530 0111
Billy Kwong, 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 9332 3300
Cafe Opera, 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney, 9253 9000
Flying Fish, Jones Bay Wharf, 19 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, 9518 6677
Pilu at Freshwater, Moore Road, Freshwater, 9938 3331
Smoked trout with samphire and soft-boiled egg
Hot-smoked freshwater or ocean trout needs only a quick warm-up in the oven; otherwise use fresh salmon or ocean trout cooked until pink inside.
8 small new potatoes, unpeeled
200g samphire, rinsed
4 soft-boiled (e.g. 3 minutes) eggs
500g hot-smoked trout
2 tbsp flat-parsley leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
1. Cook the potatoes in simmering salted water for 20 minutes until tender. Cook the samphire in simmering unsalted water for 30 seconds, drain and refresh in cold running water. Whisk the dressing ingredients together.
2. Cut the potatoes in half and toss in the dressing with the samphire. Gently peel the eggs and cut in half.
3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Wrap the fish loosely in foil and bake for 10 minutes until warm. Pull the fish apart into bite-size pieces, discarding any skin and bones.
4. Arrange the fish on dinner plates with the potatoes, samphire and parsley. Tuck in the eggs, season well, drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.
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