Sea Purslane: A Coastal Delight Found in the UK
Sea purslane (Atriplex portulacoides) is a versatile and delicious coastal plant that thrives in the sandy shores of the United Kingdom. With its succulent leaves and unique taste, this maritime herb has gained popularity among foragers and chefs alike. In this article, we will explore the identification of sea purslane, where to find it in the UK, and how to cook and enjoy it.
Sea Purslane Identification
Sea purslane is a low-growing perennial herb with fleshy, oval-shaped leaves that range in colour from vibrant green to a blueish-grey hue. The leaves are somewhat spoon-shaped and often have a waxy texture, which helps the plant retain moisture in the harsh coastal environment. The plant can reach a height of around 30 centimetres and spreads horizontally, forming dense mats along the shoreline. Inconspicuous flowers appear during summer, but it is the leaves that are primarily sought after for culinary use.
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Where to Find Sea Purslane in the UK
Sea purslane can be found along the coastal areas of the United Kingdom, particularly in salt marshes, sandy beaches, and estuaries. It thrives in environments with high salinity and is commonly spotted in regions such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Cornwall. Look for it in areas where the soil is sandy and exposed to saltwater spray. During low tide, sea purslane may even be visible growing among seaweed and other coastal plants.
Cooking with Sea Purslane
Sea purslane is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various culinary preparations. Its crisp, slightly salty flavour adds a refreshing twist to salads, soups, stews, and seafood dishes.
Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate this coastal gem into your meals:
Fresh in Salads: The vibrant leaves of sea purslane can be enjoyed raw in salads. Simply rinse the leaves thoroughly and toss them with other fresh greens and vegetables of your choice. The succulent texture and unique taste of sea purslane will provide a delightful burst of flavour.
Sautéed or Steamed: Sea purslane can also be cooked lightly to enhance its tenderness. Heat a small amount of olive oil or butter in a pan and fry the leaves briefly until they wilt. Alternatively, steam the leaves for a few minutes until they become tender. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste and serve as a side dish.
Pickled: For a tangy and preserved variation, consider pickling sea purslane. Fill a jar with equal parts vinegar and water, add a touch of sugar and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Pour the hot liquid over clean sea purslane leaves in the jar and let it cool. Seal the jar and refrigerate for a few days to allow the flavours to develop. The pickled sea purslane can be enjoyed as a condiment or added to sandwiches and fish dishes. Think any use for capers too.
Accompaniment to Seafood: Sea purslane pairs exceptionally well with seafood due to its coastal origin. Add it as a garnish to fish or shellfish dishes, or incorporate it into seafood soups and stews for an added layer of flavour.
Safety Considerations: While sea purslane is generally safe for consumption, it is essential to ensure that the plant is harvested from unpolluted areas. Avoid gathering it from areas close to industrial sites, outlets, or places where pollution is a concern.
In conclusion, sea purslane is a delightful coastal herb that adds a unique flavour and texture to various dishes. Its identification features, coastal habitat, and culinary uses make it a fascinating ingredient for foragers and food enthusiasts alike. If you have the opportunity to explore the sandy shores of the UK, keep an eye out for this succulent herb and savour the taste of the sea in your culinary adventures.
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