Samphire, scallops and black pudding

The samphire season has just begun, and with this in mind, we drove up to Norfolk at the weekend with a coolbag to try to find some at a fishmonger. Unfortunately, it being a Bank Holiday, everybody else and his mother had also driven up to Norfolk. The fishmongers were empty of anything you’d have fancied eating, as if picked over by piscine locusts, and every seaside town we encountered was so full of people that we gave up and decided to go for a hike into the bleak salt marshes near Stiffkey (pronounced ‘Stooky’) to get away from everybody. Picnic backpack hoisted aloft, legs encased in waterproof boots, we walked out about three miles until we found the perfect spot by one of the causeway bridges that punctuate the saltmarshes – flowing, salty water running through a sticky clay bed. This is perfect samphire territory, and sure enough, there were beds and beds of the stuff growing along the water margin. I scrambled down into the water, offering up a prayer to the makers of Gore-Tex, and picked enough, roots and all, to fill both our picnic napkins.

Samphire is a glasswort, sometimes called sea-asparagus. (See the picture below for a bowl of raw, cleaned samphire.) There are a few different plants which are called samphire – we’re after the best-tasting variety, marsh samphire, which is a spectacular bright green, and grows in salty mud. The samphire Shakespeare mentions in King Lear was probably rock samphire, which is comparatively bitter. Marsh samphire has an assertively salty flavour reminiscent of oysters, and is tender enough to be eaten raw in a salad. (Dr W and I found ourselves snacking on it raw as I picked, straight out of the mud.) At this time of year, the samphire is young and tender – aim to collect shoots about the length of your forefinger, roots and all. Wrap them in a damp cloth and they’ll keep nicely in the fridge for a few days. To prepare, just rinse carefully in cold water from the tap and snip the roots off with scissors. Older samphire may be a bit twiggy – use your judgement, and snip off anything that’s not a tender tip.

If foraging’s not your thing, Tig (who is extraordinarily good value on the subject of seaweed and other salty things) mentioned in the comments of an earlier sea-vegetable post that the Fish Society will send mail-order samphire to you, in season.

Samphire’s at its absolute best with shellfish, so I grabbed a bag of tiny, sweet queen scallops from the supermarket and came up with this dish, which makes the most of the odd affinity pork has with scallops and samphire, sets them on delicious crisp discs, and marries the lot up with a beurre blanc flavoured with dill and Pernod. This looks and tastes most impressive, and while it’s a bit of a faff to put together, it’ll go down a storm at a dinner party, or served to people you love for a special occasion. To serve four as a starter or two as a main course, you’ll need:

150g cleaned marsh samphire
200g queen scallops
4 slices white multigrain bread
150g slim black pudding (if you can only find the pre-sliced kind, buy 12 slices)
3 fat, juicy cloves garlic
100g salted butter, plus another 225g salted butter for the beurre blanc
1 shallot
1 bay leaf
3 peppercorns
3 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons Pernod
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon double cream
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill

Preheat the oven to 220°C while you chop the garlic finely, and cook it in 100g of butter until it is a very pale gold. Remove the garlic from the heat. Remove the crusts from the bread and use a rolling pin to roll the slices of bread until they are squashed flat, then use a round cookie cutter to make three circles out of each slice. Dip the twelve rounds in the garlic butter, lay on a baking sheet and cook on the top shelf of the oven for 8 minutes, until golden brown. Put on racks to cool.

Cut the black pudding into 12 rounds, leaving the skin on for now. Fry it over a medium heat in the remaining garlic butter for about 5 minutes per side, until the outsides are crisp. Peel off the skin and keep the little rounds of sausage on a plate in a warm place while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

To make the beurre blanc, put the wine, Pernod and vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sliced shallot, the bay leaf and the peppercorns. Bring to a simmer and reduce until there are only two tablespoons of liquid left. Sieve the liquid to remove the shallot, bay and peppercorns, and return to the pan off the heat. Get the butter out of the fridge and cut it into cubes about the size of the top joint of your thumb.

Put the pan back over a low flame. Add a teaspoon of cream to the wine reduction and use a whisk to incorporate it into the liquid. (As I’ve mentioned in previous beurre blanc recipes, this addition of cream is cheating, but it does mean that your sauce won’t split.) Whisking vigorously, add the butter to the pan, three cubes at a time. When they are half-melted, add another three, still whisking hard. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated and remove from the heat.

When the beurre blanc is nearly ready, bring the remaining garlic butter and fat from the black pudding to a frying temperature and fry off the scallops for two minutes, until they are coloured and just barely cooked. Steam the samphire for four minutes.

To assemble the dish, make a little bed of steamed samphire on each plate, and put three discs of bread crisp on top. Put a slice of black pudding on each of these, pile the tiny scallops into the middle of the plate, and spoon over a generous amount of the beurre blanc. Serve immediately.

17 Replies to “Samphire, scallops and black pudding”

  1. Hi Tig! I know you’ve got a decent butcher, but for other people who fancy making this, it bears pointing out that my black pud was a proper butcher’s one, not a supermarket pack. Infinitely nicer – sticky and crisp all at once if you’ve cooked it properly, and the samphire and scallops really deserve the best black pudding you can throw at them. (Do make the crispy jobbies I sat them on too – they’re dead easy and the texture combination is divine.)

    I have a chunk of a book (somebody else’s cookbook, chiz chiz) to edit today – but if I wasn’t working, I’d be very tempted to make a glass of pastis to toast you with, Tig. Thanks very much indeed for the samphire shopping tip and the casual compliments. 😉

  2. I love black pudding and scallops together its such a great combo. I haven’t had it for ages mind so thanks for reminding me of it. Haven’t had chance to get my mitts on any samphire yet but looking forward to when I, do the slightly crunchy juiciness is so nice.

  3. Tig – we have lunch serendipity! I’m making a toasted BLT with extra black pudding from last night.

    There is definitely some weirdy, wonderful love affair going on between pork and scallops (and other bivalves), Ms Shoe. The Chinese are right on top of this, of course, with those lovely juicy little pork and scallop dumplings you get as dim sum. Chinese wind-dried ham, which is quite stinky, is wonderful with a sweet, fat scallop. I also remember a cockle and pig’s trotter casserole I had in France once very fondly, and a razor clam thing from Bordeaux with great little crispy lardon bits – and you’re absolutely right, black pudding appears to have been designed specifically to be eaten with scallops!

  4. Seems sooo delicious!

    I like samphire so much as a salad. Steamed samphire with garlic plain yogurt and grinded tomatoe, virgin olive oil on top or steamed samphire with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

  5. Your yoghurty suggestion sounds amazingly good! It also means that I’m very likely to find myself knee-deep in salty mud again very soon. 🙂

  6. I only just found your blog after searching for char sui recipes, then I spent many hours just browsing your site and recipes. I’m in Melbourne Australia but I saw my ventures logged and they were indicating I was from Adelaide. Not a problem – Adelaide is a lovely city. I congratulate you on your site and I will visit many times in the future. Beat wishes Alison

  7. Hi Ali – it’s very nice to meet you! I hope you keep coming back – it’s always great to hear from new people in the comments.

  8. Beat down any black pud squeamishness, Cindy – I know it sounds totally disgusting when described (and several of the people I was with in Finland a couple of months ago wouldn’t even bring themselves to *taste* the famous local black pudding that was on offer as part of the hotel breakfast), but tastes pretty darn ambrosial, especially if, like this one, it’s spiced and seasoned with care by a really good butcher. Lovely stuff!

  9. I am a purist in these matters.

    My black pudding must come from Stornway and my scallops must be hand dived on the west coast of Scotland.

    All else is sacrilege.

  10. I’ve never tried samphire – I tried to get some from the fishmonger but he told me it’s late this year and won’t be coming in till June. 🙁

  11. That’s odd, Lizzie: my understanding was that it’s come in a couple of weeks earlier than usual this year because of the warm spring. Perhaps his supplier is from Scotland or something.

  12. Er, I think it’s better for the plant (and for anyone harvesting later )that you break off what you want, and leave the roots to grow again…. This will be cooked this w/e, thanks!

  13. Two things to note here: samphire is very shallow-rooted, so it’s hard to snap the plant off; invariably the roots will come with what you pick. And samphire is spreading rather than clumping, so you don’t need to feel too bad about any roots you take out; the plant will replace them very quickly!

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