Among the many reasons to appreciate Jamie, my fish guy, is the fact that he will let me know when he has special items in and introduce me to new items in his pantry. A few weeks ago, when we had friends over for dinner, he produced ginormous scallops from the Gulf of Mexico that were succulent, juicy and unbelievably sweet. My in-laws were in town this past weekend (too short a trip Mom!) and Dad P. loves scallops so I went back to get some more. Unfortunately, he was out so he offered me smaller sea scallops from Florida instead. "They're not going to be as good as the ones from Mexico, but they're still sweet with good texture."
As he was ringing up my order, he suddenly said, "Wait right here. I have something for you to try." Running in back, he came out with a box of what on first glance looked like dark green twigs. "These are sea asparagus," he said.
I'd never heard of them. Two plants are called Samphire in France and England. One belongs to the Goosefoot family and is called Salicornia, of which a domestic U.S. version appears on the Pacific and Atlanta coasts. The other is Crithmum maritimum and called rock samphire or sea fennel. Perusing the web I found this: "The French called the plant perce-pierre (rock-piercer) and Saint-Pierre from Saint Peter, the rock which Christ built his church. Somewhere along the way, the names were corrupted, both in French and English, into sampier, sampyre, passe-pierre, pousse-pierre and samphire. For further confusion, it most likely was Salicornia stricta that was used in glass manufacture, not europea or herbacea, hence the name "glasswort." It was probably a good thing to refer to the vegetables as sea asparagus and not glasswort. I dunno about you but I wouldn't eat something called glasswort, would you?
I quickly blanched the sea asparagus --no more than ten seconds to get it bright green, then shocked it in cold water. Jamie had warned me that sea asparagus is especially salty so I skipped seasoning, instead sauteeing it with a bit of butter and crushed garlic. The result? A superbly crisp and briny vegetable that was unusual and delicious.
I can't wait to see what Jamie's got next.