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Rock Samphire


Information about sourcing and cooking Rock Samphire plus Rock Samphire Recipes




Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) , sometimes referred to as sea asparagus or sea fennel, comes into season in spring, from the end of April and lasts through to October/November in the UK. It shouldn't be confused with marsh samphire, often referred to just as "samphire", which is in season in the summer and which many consider to be inferior.


Currently regarded as a speciality food and popular with chefs who often serve it with an accompanying price tag.


Found mainly on south and west coasts of Britain, western coasts of Europe, some coastal regions of the Mediterranean and North Africa, rock samphire has flat heads of yellow-green flowers and fleshy, long, divided leaves which have a strong pungent odour when crushed.  They have been described as having a taste like salty carrots, indeed, they are a member of the carrot/parsley family.


They can be difficult to harvest, growing in rock crevices sometimes high up the sides of cliffs, a fact Shakespeare alludes to in  Act IV, Scene VI of King Lear where he writes  "Half-way down hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade! "

Rock Samphire has been eaten since ancient times in the UK, and was very popular pickled in the 16th century. Below is a recipe for pickled samphire taken from  a 17th century cookbook, The art of cookery made plain and easy .


To pickle ſamphire.
TAKE the ſamphire that is green, lay it in a clean pan, throw twor or three handfuls of ſalt over, then cover it with ſpring water. Let it lie twenty-four hours, then put it into a clean braſs ſauce-pan, throw in a halfdul of ſalt, and cover it with good vinegar. Cover the pan cloſe, and ſet it over a very ſlow fire ; let it ſtand till it is juſt green and criſp, then take it off in a moment, for if it ſtands to be ſoft it is ſpoiled ; put it in your pickling pot, and cover it cloſe. When it is cold, tie it down with a bladder and leather, and keep it for uſe. Or you may keep it all the year, in a very ſtrong brine of ſalt and water, and throw it into vinegar juſt before you uſe it.


Interesting facts about Rock Samphire


It used to be sold by hawkers in the streets of London who called it  Crest Marine.

It used to be grown in gardens in England where it grew easily in a light rich soil. You can buy the  seed at certain online retailers however the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has made it illegal to gather plants from the wild.


There is a piece of land adjoining Dover which was created with earth excavated for the Channel Tunnel, which was named Samphire Hoe because rock samphire used to be harvested from the neighbouring cliffs.


Where to forage for rock samphire and where to buy rock samphire

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As mentioned above, rock samphire can be difficult to forage,  however it doesn't always grow high up and can be found on low-lying rocks and shingle beaches. Although it's at it's best in spring and summer, it can be picked later in the year although more care needs to be taken to pick only fresh young growth as the older growth is stringy or woody.


If you are lucky enough to find wild rock samphire, please harvest in a sustainable way, only picking a few stems from each plant.


There are a couple of online shops based in the UK which sell it fresh in season at quite reasonable prices and some high quality fishmongers and markets may also carry it. It is also possible to buy it frozen.



How to grow Rock Samphire


Amazingly, we have found rock samphire seeds for sale in a couple of UK online outlets so why not try growing your own rock samphire. According to the  instructions:-


Sow seed in cold frame autumn or spring, lightly cover the seed, grow on in pots and plant out in the summer. Prefers a dry well drained soil in full sun sheltered from cold winds, benefits from a salty soil.


How to prepare and cook fresh Rock Samphire


There isn't any real preparation necessary except to cut it into required lengths if a recipe calls for it. Rock Samphire should always be cooked and although it can be prepared in any number of ways, many feel it is at its best simply steamed or cooked in water, then tossed or fried in butter, much like asparagus, especially if it is scarce.


A little goes a long way so allow a little over 25g/1 oz per person for side dishes - less if it's being added to other ingredients.  To cook fresh rock samphire, simmer in water for  about 8 minutes then drain well. There's no need to add salt as it has a natural saltiness to it. 


If you are lucky enough to have too much rock samphire, it can be frozen. Blanch in boiling water for a minute then dry on kitchen paper and open freeze in a single layer. Once frozen, gently transfer to freezer proof bags or preferably rigid containers to avoid the slim stalks getting broken.


Rock Samphire Recipes


Often referred to  as a "sea vegetable" , it is not surprising that rock samphire goes very well with fish and seafood in general, whether as an accompaniment or as an ingredient in recipes. It can also be added to many dishes such as scrambled eggs,  omelettes and stir-fries.


Samphire Main Course Recipes

Cod and Samphire en Papillote     HT MC  25mins

Rock Samphire Frittata    Veg  HT  MC  30mins

Samphire and Chicken Stir Fry    HT MC 30 minutes

Gratinée Oysters on Samphire   HT MC 35 minutes

Rock Samphire Risotto   Veg  HT  MC  35 mins


Samphire Accompaniment (Side) Recipes

Buttered Samphire    Veg  HT  ACC  15mins

Garlic Rock Samphire    Veg HT ACC 15 mins

Simple Samphire     Veg   HT  ACC  15mins

Rock Samphire with Capers    Veg  HT  ACC 30mins

Rock Samphire with Chickpeas   Veg  HT ACC  30mins




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