Tasty Curiosities from the Sea

SamphireToday’s post is going to be a splurge for the food-curious out there.  By “splurge,” I mean that the topic is a bit obscure and that you might not find this particular ingredient in your neighborhood store.  I found it when I was happily haunting Feinkost Böhm – a.k.a. Food Paradise – this past week in Stuttgart, Germany.  (The same store was home to Australian wattle seed and tropical tonka beans.  I had never seen or heard of those before and had no idea what they would taste like, so of course I had to buy them.  Stay tuned!)

For years, I had been seeing an odd sea vegetable featured in British and Irish cookbooks.  It was called samphire and was touted as being briny and fresh, just like the sea.  I’m not sure if it also grows along our New England coastline, but I most certainly couldn’t find it in Metro Detroit, nor had I seen it in on the West Coast or in tropical parts of the world or even in the Mediterranean regions of Europe.  Being a sea vegetable, though, I knew it would be high in iodine, plus I figured it would also be salty.  A perfect combination if you have a low-functioning thyroid (that’s where the iodine comes in handy) and you like salty foods!

Having unsuccessfully looked for samphire for years and not having found it, you can imagine how surprised I was to spot it in Germany.  It was nestled between the rolled-up picked herrings (insanely delicious, I swear) and the Black Seaweed Salad with Sesame & Lotus Root (one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten) in the seafood section of Feinkost Böhm.  I of course bought it immediately, left the store, found a handy step to sit on, and proceeded to have an impromptu seafood picnic in the middle of Königstraße, the main drag that arrows through the pedex shopping part of Stuttgart.  I was too thrilled by my food finds to wonder if anyone thought I was odd.

The verdict?  Samphire is lovely.  It’s crunchy and juicy and briny, and you can eat it raw out of hand, you can add it to salads and sandwiches – it works especially well in sandwiches since it adds a salty kick along with crunch – or you can serve it with fish or other seafood as a garnish.  If you like, you can simmer samphire for 3 minutes to soften the briny taste a little, but you’ll lose some of the pleasing crunchy texture that way.  It keeps for at least a week in the fridge.  I thought I didn’t have a refrigerator in the hotel (turned out there was a mini-bar tucked away under the desk that I didn’t notice until my last night), so I left the samphire out at room temp overnight, and it was still fine several days later.

If you ever stumble across samphire, give it a try.  And even if you don’t, at least now you know what it is.  You never know when food trivia will come in handy at a dinner party or a game show!

Courtesy of Cultured Cook.

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