lemongrass fish and samphire salad
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Samphire, or sea asparagus, is the salty marshland grass and not actually seaweed as some may think. It belongs to the very salty club together with capers, anchovies and Parmesan but it loses most of the saltiness when lightly cooked. It is traditionally served with fish but I completely don’t see why fish should claim exclusivity: it will complement chicken or lamb just as well.
It’s perfectly edible raw, as most vegetables, once you get rid of the excessive saltiness. The best way is to bung the samphire in a large bowl of water and soak it overnight. If you have only a couple of hours to spare, change the water as often as you can. Try a stem for taste – you’ll easily know when it’s ready or to your liking.
The salad is supposed to be served warm but don’t fret too much on a summer day – and summer is of course when samphire is at its best – the fish won’t get cold that easily and room temperature is perfectly tolerable. That’s why it makes a super good starter for a summer dinner party – easy to assemble ahead, just drizzle the earlier mixed dressing over the plates at the last minute; and you sure plan and shop for a party in advance enough for the samphire to soak.
It is not strictly necessary to pick the flaked fish off the skin but as boiled (poached!) skin is unappetising and the flesh will flake very easily, it’s not too much hassle. Try poaching the fillets skinned, by all means, only risking they might disintegrate into a fish soup too early.
lemongrass fish and samphire saladServings: 4 as a starter, 2 as a main courseTime: about half an hour, plus soaking
- 200-300g (7-10oz.) samphire, picked off the tough stems
- 4 white fish fillets (bass, bream, hake, tilapia), skin on
- 250ml (1 cup) dry white wine
- For the lemongrass dressing:
- 60ml (¼ cup) rice vinegar
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 60ml (¼ cup) water
- 30ml (2 tbsp.) Thai fish sauce
- 30ml (2 tbsp.) fresh lime juice
- 2 fresh lemongrass stalks
- 1 kaffir lime leaf, finely shredded
- a few sprigs of fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped
- 2 Thai red birdseye chilies, de-seeded and finely sliced
Soak the samphire in plenty of cold water overnight, or at least for 2-3 hours, changing the water frequently; to get rid of the excess saltiness. If you can leave it soaking for two days, it will be even better; just try a small stem for taste.
Drain the samphire and pat it dry. Divide it between the serving plates or bowls.
For the dressing, peel the tough outer leaves off the lemongrass and reserve them. Chop the tender centres very finely. Place the vinegar, sugar, water, fish sauce and lime juice in a small pan and bring to the boil. Add the chopped lemongrass and shredded lime leaf, turn down the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes, until it thickens a little. Cool down to room temperature and stir in the coriander, spring onion and the chili.
To cook the fish, heat up the wine over low heat with the reserved lemongrass peel in a large shallow saucepan; you’ll want to fit at least half the fish there in a single layer. When the wine is simmering, add the fish fillets skin side up.
Poach them gently for 3-6 minutes depending on the thickness. If cooking in two batches, keep the cooked fish on a warmed plate.
When all the fish is cooked, flake it off the skin onto the piles of samphire. Drizzle generously with the dressing and serve it extra in a little cup.