I don’t think there are many places in the UK where you get a feeling that there’s not another soul around, and most of those I’ve come across are in Scotland.
However, I managed to grab a brief Robinson Crusoe moment on home turf in Devon recently, stranded on the beach as the advance party for a group of food journalists who were invited to pick samphire with us on the Erme estuary, probably one of the most unspoilt in the South West. I was able to get there early and had a tranquil hour, quietly snipping samphire with only a few cormorants for company. Heaven.
We ate ours served with a huge sea trout donated by my dad (we were lucky to get it, as he had a little unplanned swim shortly after he caught it!)
Freshly caught sea trout!
To serve samphire very simply, to accompany fish or lamb, simply boil or steam it for a minute, then toss in melted butter with a squeeze of lemon juice and some freshly ground black pepper. It’s good tossed in salads too.
Busy picking samphire
Gathered around our camping set up – enjoying sea trout and samphire
Here are a couple of my favourite recipes; there are lots more on our website.
spider crab & samphire salad, with new potatoes & roasted tomatoes
In the early summer the spider crabs come into shore in vast numbers and are rarely eaten by us; most get sent over to the continent. They have a light, sweet flavour. If I go spear-fishing off the South Devon coast I pick a couple of these up on the way back; they’re a substitute for not catching any sea bass, which tend to be further offshore until the sea warms up later in the year, but by no means a poor one. Cooking them can be a bit whiffy indoors; I usually get the camping cooker out and boil them in the garden. If you can’t find spider crab, use the meat from a brown crab instead.
- 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in ½ crossways
- 800g new potatoes, scrubbed clean & cut in ½ or ¼’s, depending on size
- 4 tbsp good olive oil
- 200g samphire, washed
- 200g cooked white spider crab meat
- a few basil leaves, shredded
- a few tarragon leaves, shredded
- (as an alternative to basil & tarragon, try some chopped fresh chervil if you can get it, or parsley)
- lemon juice, to taste
- sea salt (see note below) & freshly ground black pepper, to season
Put the cherry tomatoes on a non-stick baking tray and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 180C for 30-40 mins, depending on your oven. They should be sticky and just starting to caramelise. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. While the tomatoes are cooking, put the potatoes in a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil and cook the potatoes for approx 10 -15 mins, depending on size, until tender. Drain and leave to cool. Cook the samphire in another pan of boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and plunge into a pan of cold water, then drain again and leave to cool. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, tomatoes, samphire, crab meat and herbs. Add the rest of the olive oil and lemon juice to taste and season with black pepper. You probably won’t need any extra sea salt to season, as the samphire is salty enough, but taste before you serve.
samphire, sorrel & new potato frittata
samphire, sorrel & new potato frittata
Samphire doesn’t have to be served with fish or meat; if you’re vegetarian it pairs well with eggs too. I’ve included some sorrel in this set omelette, for a citrus hit. If you’ve grown some from your Riverford box to grow earlier in the year, use that, or try a garden centre for a plant; it’s not something you generally find in your local shop.
- 250g new pots, scrubbed clean & thickly sliced
- a little butter & oil for frying
- 4 large or 6 smaller sorrel leaves, finely shredded
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 50g samphire, washed
- sea salt (add sparingly if at all, as the samphire will be salty)
- freshly ground black pepper
Cook the sliced potatoes for 5 minutes in a pan of salted boiling water. Drain them and leave to one side. Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the sorrel and stir for 1 minute (sorrel loses its green colour when cooked, so don’t be alarmed when it changes colour quite dramatically). Add the drained potatoes, beaten eggs, samphire, salt and a good grinding of black pepper to season. Cook for a few minutes, enough to set the bottom. Finish under the grill or in the oven, until the frittata is just set all the way through.