– septime restaurant | chef bertrand grébaut –
80 rue de charonne, 75011
So here’s an interesting ingredient: samphire. Pretty name, pretty looks. If you speak ye olde english, it’s called glasswort. If you speak science nerd, it’s salicornia europaea or marsh samphire. If you speak french, it’s salicorne. For the uninitiated – which was us until about six weeks ago – it’s a salty, edible succulent found mainly in shallow marshes around the sea. It’s pretty much a paleo wet dream, if you’re into that sort of thing, and looks a bit like broccolini would if it were a coral, or maybe like baby asparagus made of jelly. Actually it looks nothing like that. Look – here are a couple photos:
It’s a pretty common occurrence in paris restaurants. It has featured at almost every place we’ve been to: the oft-mentioned septime (where we took inspiration for this recipe) and clamato, as well as at more casual, local favourites we eat at all the time. We first tried it at bones, then hai kai, then aux deux amis and, of course, the indomitable au passage (more on those cheeky scoundrels in an upcoming post).
For the amount it appears on menus here, however, it’s a bitch to find. This is how the search went: 14 fish shops visited. Seven that didn’t know what we were talking about; three that didn’t have any. Two broken promises, one failed delivery truck, and finally, the place where we got it. One. Out of fourteen. But yay!
The texture is excellent – crunchy-watery, reminiscent of water chestnuts. It’s salty. It has a vaguely seafoody taste. It’s like eating tiny baby mermaid fingers. We’re obsessed.
For this recipe, we thought a slice of porky cured meat would go nicely with the chewy sweetness of the clams and the oceany crisp of the samphire. For anyone still reading, we went with jamon iberico de belotta from jabugo – arguably the world’s best cured ham – made from spanish free range pata negra pigs. The production of belotta iberico is strictly regulated: from a certain point in their lives, for example, these pigs graze in oak forests where they feed almost exclusively on herbs and acorns – a diet that imparts an intense yet delicate sweet olivey flavour and super silky texture to the meat. If you can’t get any belotta iberico, you can substitute with regular iberico, or even a thinly sliced rolled pancetta.
¾ cup samphire
chinese cabbage, top part of a few leaves
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup fish stock (optional, if you want more broth)
1 red chilli, finely chopped
6 slices of jamon iberico
parsley, finely chopped
lemon (for a bit of zest and a squeeze of juice)
Rinse the samphire thoroughly and leave to soak in a bowl of cold water while you faff around preparing stuff. Bring a separate pot of water to the boil. Whatever you do, DO NOT salt the water. Don’t put salt in the water. Not sure if we mentioned it – do NOT salt the water. No salt. In water.
Blanch the samphire for one minute in the pot of boiling water, drain, and refresh under cold water. Wash the cabbage leaves carefully and cut into thick strips. Set both aside.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in medium saucepan and fry the slices of jamon until crisp then remove from heat. Fry the chilli briefly in the fat left behind in the pan. Add the clams and immediately pour in the wine and fish stock (if using). Cover the whole thing with a lid and steam the clams for around 5 minutes. Give the pot a shake every minute or so to move them around.
Once wilted, arrange the cabbage and samphire in a bowl and top with clams and a few ladles of broth. Serve with chopped parsley, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.