There are two types of samphire – marsh and rock . Marsh samphire has vibrant green stalks, similar to baby asparagus, with a distinctively crisp and salty taste. It can be used raw in salad, though it tends to be very salty so it is more often boiled or steamed for a few minutes. Rock samphire has a rather unpleasant smell and flavour. Occasionally you may also find jars of pickled samphire in gourmet shops.
Samphire is an Australian native succulent also referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorne, glasswort, pickleweed and sea beans. Woody at the base and with many branches it grows freely on many of Southern Australia’s salty flats. It is considered best for use in summer (being in season from October to March) when the fleshy leaves are bright green and aromatic. In winter the leaves turn a reddish/ pink but there is still some green to be found at the base of the plants. Blanching winter samphire before cooking gives a lovely, salty taste of the sea.
Crunchy in texture, it gives a salty fresh burst of flavour which is reminiscent of asparagus. Fine young shoots that are bright green are the best to use raw, cooking can be a quick blanch, or sauté and toss with macadamia or olive oil, garlic and onion. Samphire pairs well with seafood and is wonderful in salads, pesto and salsa verde or as a garnish. To reduce saltiness you can blanch for 30 – 45 seconds or soak for 1-2 hours, before plunging in ice water. Samphire is high in vitamin A and a good source of calcium and iron.
Samphire is planted as native vegetation so protection and regulation varies between States, so enquire before foraging as there can be heavy fines and as a waterway plant there can be toxicity risks in some places.