We are not hardened foragers in our house, though we do gather spring nettles for soup and beer, mushrooms (when we are 100% sure what we are faced with – we did a course and I highly recommend it if you want to pick and eat wild mushrooms and survive the experience), blackberries (of course) and many spring and summer greens such as wild garlic and wild leeks. There is still real abundance to be found, if you know what you are looking for.
Rule number one for a successful forager is: never tell anyone where you gather. If you do, then the chances are, when you visit next, the word will have got around and your spot will have been stripped bare.
The other day we were strolling along a fairly popular but rocky beach, when we spotted a small bunch of rock samphire. We were overjoyed and took only a couple of good handfuls. A little further along we were astonished to find another, bigger bunch, and beyond that it was growing in abundance – so much for leaving some behind for nature, we could have filled a carrier bag and still have left 95% of what was growing there. I still won’t tell you where we found it though…
Samphire comes in two main types: marsh samphire, which is like eating the sea and can be found on fish counters in supermarkets now, and rock samphire which is less salty but more citrussy. Either will do for this recipe, though the results will be quite different depending on which you use. The marsh samphire is more vibrant, whereas the rock samphire has an exquisite, delicate fragrance.
RECIPE serves 4
approx 250g marsh or rock samphire
400g linguine or spaghetti
a good knob of unsalted butter
4 salmon fillets
the zest and juice of a lemon
Pick over and wash the samphire, roughly chop any large pieces, then set aside.
Pat the salmon fillets dry, season lightly and set aside for now.
In a large pan of lightly salted boiling water, cook the linguine or spaghetti per packet instructions until al dente, this will take around nine or ten minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet or frying pan over a high-medium flame until hot (but not smoking), drizzle the pan with a little oil, pop half of the the knob of butter in the pan as well, add the salmon skin-side down and fry for around two minutes until the skin is crispy, basting all the while with the melted butter and oil. Don’t be tempted to try and move the fish around in the pan, this is the most common mistake when frying fish. Just leave it to sit in place, the skin will release from the pan when it is ready. Flip over and sear the other side for around 30 seconds, then remove from the pan and rest over kitchen paper until the pasta is ready.
Drain the pasta, leaving it wet with a good slick of the cooking water. Return it to the cooking pan and add the samphire and remaining butter with a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well and then add the lemon zest and juice. Check the seasoning now, it makes a huge difference to the finished dish and you may need more salt than you think.
From here I like to serve the pasta in bowls with the whole salmon fillet on top – my wife likes the crispy skin. You can however remove the cooked skin and flake the salmon while the pasta is finishing (leave the flakes large) and toss through the pasta with the samphire if you prefer.
Served alongside a large bowl of rocket leaves, lightly dressed with fresh lemon juice.