Samphire – Poor Man’s Asparagus

March 13th, 2007  | Category: Turkish Cuisine, Vegetarian

Samphire - Poor Man's Asparagus

“Half-way down / Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!” Shakespeare, King Lear.

The pickled version of this herb with the funny nickname was once so popular (and salable) that men risked their necks to collect it from the rocks. Hence the reference to the danger involved in collecting it.

Samphire originated in the shores of Great Britain and northern Europe and grows in rocky salt-sprayed regions of the seacoast. It is also very popular in Turkey. You can find samphire salad in most of the fish restaurants in Istanbul and along the coast of the Aegean Sea.

The bright-green leaflets full of aromatic juice are extremely salty. My favorite way of cooking this herb starts with blanching it for 15-20 minutes (depending on the toughness) to soften it and get rid of the excess salt. The boiling water gets quite stinky after this step. You then transfer it in a cold water bath and drain it, which also helps preserve the bright color.

As for the vinaigrette, my favorite is a mixture of olive oil (2 parts), balsamic vinegar (1 part) and pomegranate syrup (1 part).

It can also be sauteed in butter, or simply drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.

I also found a great recipe by Rick Stein: Warm salad of samphire, asparagus and crab.

So, all and all, is it really worth risking one’s neck? Obviously not, but this simple salad recipe is definitely worth trying.

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Comments

  1. 1 - Buyuk Kus on March 13th, 2007

    “Borulce” thats the name Aegean people will use. if you love garlic mash it with olive oil and put it on after you boil and clean Borulce. That is how we will eat.

  2. 2 - Patricia Scarpin on March 13th, 2007

    Cenk,
    I have never seen this kind of asparagus, the nickname is so funny!

  3. 3 - Dolly on March 13th, 2007

    They are also called “sea beans” in the US; and in Turkey the common name is “the black eyed pea from the sea”. They are neither black eyed, nor resemble a pea. They are definitely not beans, ok the taste might slightly resemble beans. Can’t we name things properly? Ha ha!

  4. 4 - jean on March 14th, 2007

    They look very interesting – I’ve only seen them on a food program once and always wondered what they tasted like.

  5. 5 - david on March 14th, 2007

    In England, they’re nicknamed “chicken’s feet”…and in France, ‘les salicornes’ are grown in the salt marshes and they pickle them!

  6. 6 - Cenk on March 14th, 2007

    And in German, they call it Meerfenchel, which translates to sea fennel. I am amazed to find out how many nicknames this wicked herb has!

  7. 7 - valentina on March 20th, 2007

    I have seen it a few times at my local fishmongers but as i was not acquainted with it I had not yet tried ti. You have definitely inspired me.for Saturday I guess the salad has already been chosen.

  8. 8 - Olivia Rune on September 21st, 2008

    looks tasty!
    The samphire Shakespeare wrote about was Rock samphire growing on the cliffs, I think this is Mash Samphire…

  9. 9 - mike acton on December 7th, 2008

    Does anyone know where you can buy samphire in NY NY?

    I love the stuff eaten as is without any thing done to it other than a quick rinse.

    It was quite difficult to buy in England and I haven;t seen it for sale here,even in upmarket stores, so any advice would be greatly appreciated

    mjacton@aol.com

  10. 10 - mike acton on December 7th, 2008

    Valentina- you state you have seen this at your local fishmongers- could you give me the address of the place so I can maybe get some(samphire) if it isn’t too far from NY or buy it by mail order if not?

    I just love this stuff and a tv programme yesterday on Prince Charle’s breakfast( he has it in the morning) reniewed my lust!!!!

    I love to eat it as is -just a rinse and then eat the small stalks.
    Please give me a mail at mjacton@aol.com please, if you could.

    Thanks

    Mike

  11. 11 - m on January 1st, 2009

    If anyone lives in san francisco you can buy samphire in the ferry building market down on the embarcadero. Love this plant – crisp and fresh tasting – goes good with gravlax etc

  12. 12 - thisifound on September 2nd, 2009

    Cenk,
    As a fellow ex-Istanbulian, now San Franciscan, I have enjoyed your blog for some time now.
    If anyone in San Francisco wants to try it, I have found these in Rainbow Market, this year. They call it seabeans. It is quite expensive by weight, but it is pretty light, so don’t be scared by the price so much. Rainbow doesn’t have it all the time, but is otherwise a fabulous place to shop for produce, so you won’t be empty-handed.

    I think the reference to blackeyed peas in the Turkish name stems from the common abundance of these vegetables along the Aegean coast, as well as their similar sour taste.

  13. 13 - Cenk on September 3rd, 2009

    Pinar – Thanks a lot for the info! It is great to have discovered a fellow ex-Istanbulian (now a very lucky San Franciscan) who has a food blog!

  14. 14 - Gogol on December 7th, 2009

    Hmmm borulce, how I miss it. I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could find it here also in Paris, but it just isn’t borulce if it isn’t prepared by my aunt in her yazlik in dikilli :)

  15. 15 - Nushki on March 14th, 2010

    I eat this in Turkey, it’s great in summer with grilled fish and lot’s of garlic. Also very good for you!!

  16. 16 - Lynne Hoare on June 25th, 2010

    This sounds an interesting herb and is featuring on cooking shows currently, here in Australia. It appears to be a well spread herb, does anyone know of its’ availability here in Oz!
    lhoare@bigpond.com

  17. 17 - jags on July 26th, 2010

    you can buy marsh samphire on the north norfolk coast. we bought some in blakeney. boil sor 15 minutes and strip the green from the stems. get some garlic in there and eat with fish. i also hear its a great aphrodisiac. enjoy.

  18. 18 - Pam Eustice in Cornwall UK on August 16th, 2010

    Found it by accident in my local Asda, can’t wait to try it. I was thinking of stir fry or salad.

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