If you forage for something, it tastes much better than when you pay $12 a pound for it. This is why talk of ramps always seems to annoy me, I guess. Fiddleheads too – they’re not meant to be bought but found.
The same is true of samphire. I’ve never bought it; I always forage it. I’m so addicted now I might buy it if I had to, but I’m lucky enough to know a place on the Cape where it grows like mad and, from roughly now until mid-July I can pick as much as I want. (Now, the pickings are slim, but super-tender; it takes ten minutes to gather a pound; in a month, I’ll be able to gather three pounds in that same time.)
This little post is relevant, though, even if you’re among the 99.99 percent of people without access to samphire. (Otherwise, it would be pretty stupid, no?). And it’s quite simple: I stopped at the market on the way home and bought a small piece of dayboat cod. I washed my samphire; covered the cod with salt and pepper and fresh tarragon from my neighbor’s garden, browned the cod in butter on one side, and took it out. Lightly browned the samphire (looks nice, huh?) in the same pan, then put the cod back on top: no liquid.
Steamed the fish for about 5 more minutes (you can see it gaping). Put both on a plate, and deglazed (that is, cleaned) the pan with a little brandy I happen to have lying around for just such an occasion. That was it. (Truth be told, that was too much tarragon, which I’d feared; but it was so gorgeous when I was picking it I couldn’t resist.)
As we were eating this, I realized that the principle was one I’d been following since my early days of foraging (in those days, dandelions and fiddleheads were the common objects), and even gardening: You cook vegetables; you steam fish over them, using the moisture they exude to cook the fish; you eat them together. Herbs would help, but if you don’t have them, this is still a great basic recipe.
The following is from How to Cook Everything; there’s a lot more detail in the book, but you will get the idea, if you haven’t already.
Fish, Steamed over Vegetables
Makes: 4 Servings
Time: 30 to 40 minutes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium or 1 large zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 small or 1 medium eggplant, trimmed, peeled if necessary, and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 small or 2 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped, with their liquid
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or marjoram
1/2 cup good black olives, optional
About 1 1/2 pounds sturdy fish fillets
1/2 cup roughly chopped basil leaves
1. Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet that can later be covered and turn the heat to medium-high. Immediately add the garlic and, when it sizzles, the onions and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the zucchini, eggplant, salt, and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is fairly soft, another 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme or marjoram, and olives if you’re using them and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break up, 5 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning.
3. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and lay it on top of the vegetables. Adjust the heat so the mixture simmers and cover. Cook 5 to 12 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife inserted into the fish at its thickest point meets little resistance. (The thinnest fillets will be done in five minutes, but most will take about twice that long and a few even longer.) Remove the fish to a plate, then stir the basil into the vegetables and spoon them around the fish; drizzle all with the remaining olive oil (use a little more if you like) and serve.
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