Ah! Samphire! Always such a treat, but so hard to track down. When you do get your hands on some, you get an extra reward by a fishmonger whose smile says "that's a girl who knows her seafood". I know he loves me for always asking for the more unusual stuff, the things that are just that bit harder to track down, and he, like me, enjoys the resulting satisfaction. I like that. A lot. So that's my Ode to the Polish (I think) chubby guy at Fishworks in Richmond... I don't even know his name. Shame on me, but that's easily remedied.
Moving on. I was desperate to find some samphire as soon as the season opened, really, slightly egged on by wanting to re-create (and much improve on) a dish one of my fellow diners recently had at the Cadogan Arms in Chelsea. The idea of scallops, samphire and butter is one that's hard to beat and I like butter as much as the next person (in fact, I am positive I like it a LOT MORE than the next person), but the specimens served at said pub were swimming in obscene amounts of butter, and it wasn't of top quality either.
So I took the opportunity to create a much lighter version at home for an eclectic tapas feast we had with some friends just before our holiday to Spain... Wiebke and Dirk, if you're reading this, it always happens to us, we seem to meet the loveliest people just before relocating somewhere else - we've been living at spitting distance for the past few years, why did it take us so long to find out that we get on like a house on fire???
Anyway, everybody fell in love with this dish - and it couldn't be simpler if you tried. So next time you go to your fishmongers', see if they have some scallops and ask for a handful of samphire as well - it's an excellent source of vitamin C and minerals and, being a diuretic and digestive aid, is currently being investigated as a possibly treatment option for obesity and thought to be beneficial for kidney complaints. Here are some tips on picking your own.
The scallops are easily cleaned and all they need is flash-frying in a pan of melted butter, tossing the blanched samphire in the cooking juices and serving the lot in the shells or on some toasted sourdough - give it a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg, if you want, which is my little secret twist... a very easy, impressive and extremely satifying starter!
Seared scallops on samphire
serves 2 as a starter
6 juicy scallops (with or without roe)
10 g butter
1 handful of samphire
dusting of nutmeg
Remove the tough white muscle on one side of the scallop, making sure to keep the membranes that hold the roe intact. Clean in some water, if necessary, and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Prep the samphire by blanching it in boiling water for 2 minutes, refresh in ice-cold water to retain the colour. No salt is needed, the samphire is salty in itself.
Heat a stainless steel pan to the right temperature. A very good tutorial on pan-frying can be found here. Scallops are very delicate, so it's essential that you get the temperature right to prevent them from sticking to the pan.
Add the butter. As soon as the butter has completely melted, add the scallops, one by one and in sequence, so you know which has been in the longest. As soon as the first one has cooked for 2 minutes, turn over and proceed with the rest of them in the order of placing them in the pan. Give them another minute, then take out of the pan and set aside. It is important that you do not overcook them - they will continue the cooking process for a little while once removed from the pan and they should be slightly translucent in the middle - at least that's how I like mine, there's nothing worse than a chewy scallop!
Return the pan to the stove, add the samphire and just toss it through to coat it with cooking juices and warm it up a little.
Arrange some samphire in scallop shells or on a piece of toasted sourdough, top with a scallop, dust with freshly grated nutmeg and serve immediately.