An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
If you’ve never been to Norfolk then chances
are you’ve probably never experienced one of
nature’s true taste sensations – samphire.
You’ll find it in abundance on the shorelines,
marshes and mudflats of North Norfolk and
for that reason alone it’s worth a trip here.
What is it?
Samphire (pronounced Samfer) or Salicornia Europea
if you want to be posh, is a sea vegetable resembling
miniature cacti that has vibrant green stalks and is
around 10cm long. It grows in wet marshy ground
and is pulled from the earth root intact. Some people leave the root on when cooking but it’s best to cut it off to about 5mm when preparing and washing the stems. It has a distinctively salty taste and is delicious both on its own or served with shellfish.
Where can you get it?
I’ve been enjoying samphire every summer since I was a small child and its one of the things I look forward to the most as the weather warms up. I used to go samphire picking with my Nan over the marshes of the Norfolk/Lincs border but nowadays the risqué locations have been cordoned off as it’s very easy to find yourself cut off as the tide comes in unless you’re very familiar with the area and tidal pooling. There are plenty of safe places to pick it though. The locals tend to be quite protective of their top samphire picking spots nowadays but from Holme right around the coast of North Norfolk you’re in with a good chance of finding some if you don’t mind a walk. It’s a little tedious and you’ll need your wellies but it’s a hugely rewarding job. Alternatively it’s sold in the local fishmongers and markets, and at the side of the coastal road by the bag.
How do you cook it?
Top London chefs consider samphire quite a delicacy and serve tiny portions of it as a starter or as an accompaniment to meat and fish. They barely show it the boiling water however and as a result it’s crisp and hard to digest. Us locals have different ideas. If you want to enjoy it the Norfolk way (and in my opinion the correct and tastiest way), you’ll boil it for 15 minutes until it comes off its stalk with ease. Then load your plate high and tuck into it with lots of vinegar and some fresh bread and butter. In its purest form it’s simply divine. I can also recommend adding some shell on tiger prawns and a glass of sauvignon blanc to the menu, best consumed on a sunny veranda overlooking the ocean if possible. Norfolk living at its best.