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That’s Bloody Brilliant: Samphire

A friend from the States asked the other day what my favorite thing about London has been so far. It felt like a rookie answer, what I told her — something a person would say if she didn’t really know anything yet. But it was the truth. “How brand-new everything feels,” I said. A funny thing to say about a two thousand year-old city.

Nothing compares to the feeling of synapses firing like your own personal cadre of mad little minions with every step you take. Being somewhere new makes you feel both smarter and dumber at the same time, which is exhausting in its own right. On the one hand, it’s a lazy scholar’s paradise, with a steep and effortless learning curve. But on the other hand, it’s sort of like going about your usual business — at the grocery store, on the subway, crossing the street — after having downed two or three shots of cheap tequila. In the broad light of mid-morning. On a Monday. You approach your day with relative confidence. How hard could buying a few ingredients for dinner be, especially for someone as AWESOME as you are? (Oh wait, I forgot — we’re not actually drunk on cheap tequila. Scratch the awesomeness thing.)

But before you know it, you’re stepping on your own flip-flop heels in the middle of the grains aisle at Budgens, with four employees surrounding you. All five of you are scratching your heads, trying to figure out whether porridge oats or pinhead oats have anything to do with the steel-cut oats you’re looking for. And you’re scratching your head a little extra hard, because doesn’t the leading brand of steel-cut oats in the States come from Ireland, for the love of god?

Just when you start to think it’s all pinheads and puzzled salespeople (or hold on, were those security guards surrounding you in a tight circle, maybe?), you happen upon something that’s new and unknown in a love-at-first-sight kind of way. Something like samphire — a crisp, salty summer vegetable that grows at the edges of marshland in England and on both coasts of the United States (among numerous other places I could have run into it in the past, but didn’t). The minute I saw it on the shelf, I knew it was something special. I knew we would have a moment, samphire and me. I knew that samphire by any other name would taste as salty. (And it’s a darn good thing, too, because samphire has a string of aliases. Salicornia, sea beans, saltwort and glasswort, to name just a few. Just to totally confuse matters, though, marsh samphire is not the same as rock samphire, a different plant entirely.)

Isn’t it just like me to fall head over heels for a marsh vegetable?

In late summer, if you’re lucky, you may be able to find samphire at your local fish market or farmers’ market — or, in the U.K., even at your local grocery store if you pick one that’s a little on the funky and bi-curious side.  And if you’re the adventurous type, you can pick it right out of the marshlands or grow it in your garden. Samphire is quite salty, so don’t add extra salt. (And that’s coming from someone who used to dream of having a deer-style salt lick in her room as a kid.) Once it’s home, eat it within a day or two if you can, cooked just fleetingly, as in the recipe below.

{P.S. If you pay a lot of attention, you may have noticed that I changed the title of this post after publishing it. I’m starting a new feature called “That’s Bloody Brilliant” for — as I would have said in New Jersey — all the totally awesome stuff I learn about in the U.K. I just wasn’t quite bloody brilliant enough myself to figure this out ahead of time.}

Want to learn more about marsh samphire? Check out:

Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

Simple Samphire (Sea Beans)

Preparation 00:05 Cook Time 00:01 Total Time 0:06
Serves 2     adjust servings

Samphire pairs well with fish and shellfish, and also with eggs.


  • 5 ounces (about 150 grams) marsh samphire
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Bring about two inches of unsalted water to a boil in a medium pot. Rinse the samphire well and add it to the boiling water for one minute. Drain into a colander. (If you want the samphire to retain a bright green color and slightly crisper texture, you can shock it in a bowl of ice water and drain again.) Toss with the butter and serve.


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Hi there, I'm Carolyn, and I'm delighted you're here. I'm a NYC-area food, travel, yoga, coffee, wine, running, music making and book obsessive with a great family and a love for sharing it all with you. Grab a drink and come on in. Learn more.