Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Summer by the Sea" on My Plate: Samphire in Beurre Meunière

summer by the sea, on a plate

It is rare these days that I find something in the supermarket that I've never seen before. I've spent many a morning or afternoon, as Roman can attest to, trawling the aisles, checking out every nook and cranny to see what new has come in and what old has gone out. I regularly come home with new ingredients, spices, herbs - anything I've never tried. It is one of my favorite things to do and I consider it a luxury that Matt eats pretty much anything I put before him, no matter how odd or unorthodox, and gives his honest two-cents.

I've just re-joined my local gym, having avoided it successfully since Roman was born. Maybe it was the memories of late April afternoons spent floating like a whale hoping Roman would turn to the "optimal" birthing position, maybe it was just laziness, but it took a year for me to get back into it. I did my first aerobics class ever today. It became clear very quickly why I'd never done one before when after only 10 minutes I felt like my chest would collapse into itself and my arms stopped moving on command (let's not talk about my legs). But I stuck it out. And lived to eat another day.

Incidentally, it's after an intense workout that I most crave fresh summery foods - cucumber, tomato, lettuce, fish. Directly after the gym today I rushed to my local Waitrose and picked up some Tilapia (a fish I rarely see in the UK but which reminds me of home). And next to it, resting on ice in the fish counter, my prize for the 30 minutes of aerobic hell I'd just gone through: something I'd only heard of and seen twice in cooking shows: Samphire!

I quickly grabbed a pack, and rushed off to my kitchen, eager for a fresh, summery and tasty adventure.

* * *

Samphire: My "Summer by the Sea" on a Plate

samphire and Cornish wooden fish

Why Summer?
I know technically summer hasn't started, but for me, mentally, summer always starts as soon as May hits. As a kid in Texas, May was the beginning of the end. Pools opened, school wound down, and before you knew it you were running out those double-doors, practically flinging your clothes off to reveal the swimsuit you'd been secretly wearing to school for the past week, feral screams echoing behind you, exuberantly, shamelessly cannon-balling into the local pool.

I didn't grow up by the seaside, but I always wished I had. Maybe it's for that reason that I'm obsessed with seafood and fish. It's my way of vicariously transporting myself to a beach campfire where fresh catch is simply seasoned and thrown on a large romantic fire and cool white wine flows freely. I think Samphire is and has always been the element missing from that beautiful dinner-time mirage.

Sadly, Samphire is only a summer thing. It has a very short season from June to August (though apparently in the UK you can get it in May too!), so now is the time to pounce.

Why Samphire?
What is Samphire? It's seaweed, simply put. But a whole lot prettier than Nori or the stuff that tangles itself in your toes and freaks you out at the beach. Salicornia sp. is a seashore bush common in the UK and has bright green, succulent stems. It was once used in glassware manufacture, where it got its nickname glasswort. In fact, in the 14th Century glassmakers would locate their workshops near regions where it was plentiful as it was so useful to them. Most know it as "marsh samphire" not to be confused with its less tasty and nasty looking companion "rock samphire" (source).

I had to try it the moment I saw it. It's a deliciously bright green, and looks like every drawing of the perfect green seaweed you've ever seen in a cartoon or book. It is fresh and summery looking and tasting. The perfect accompaniment to my fake summer by the sea.

* * *

Tilapia and Steamed Samphire
with Beurre Meunière

Serves 2

This recipe can be used just as a side dish - the perfect accompaniment to any simply cooked, fresh seafood dish, but I used the sauce for both the samphire and Tilapia.

My version of beurre meunière deviates slightly from the traditional recipe in that I use half lemon juice, half sherry vinegar, and add shallots and lemon zest for a little more substance. It is substantial in flavor, but otherwise such a simple, classic sauce that it doesn't detract in any way from the Samphire or fish. The perfect summer dish, if you ask me. : )

* * *

100g Fresh Samphire, rinsed well
4 filets of Tilapia, boneless and skinless
2 tbsp flour

For the Beurre Meunière:
1 regular or 2 small shallots, finely chopped
125g or 4 oz unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest, or finely chopped lemon skin
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.

2. Melt about 1/4 of the butter in a saucepan and allow it to come to a bubble. Add the filets of fish one at a time and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side, until the fish is just opaque and slightly golden. Remove the fish to a warm plate.

3. Add the rest of the butter and allow it to come to a bubble over lowish heat. Allow it to brown slightly (as if you were making a roux). When it is golden and nutty smelling, add the shallots and cook for a minute.

4. Add the lemon juice, vinegar and parsley and cook for 30 seconds, remove from heat but keep sauce warm.

5. Steam the samphire (this can be done while you are making the sauce and should only take 2-4 minutes if it is fresh).

5. Serve immediately: plate the samphire first, with a filet of fish or two over it. Spoon the sauce over both and garnish with a thin slice of lemon.
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  1. Wow, this looks and sounds delicious, I love the sound of samphire and it sure is pretty on the plate.

  2. Samphire is a new ingredient to me, how neat! This dish sounds absolutely delicious!

  3. Being about as far from any ocean or sea, I don not hold out much hope that I will find samphires in Minnesota. Still, I agree that they're much more appetizing than gelatinous green marine stuff! But what has really started me salivating is the beurre meunière - must, must try!

  4. Samphire is new to me too - I just discovered it a few weeks ago. A fellow British blogger on twitter suggested I cook it like asparagus, but this way with beurre meuniere sounds so much more delicious. I'll have to keep an eye out for it again - I only saw it the once.