Think bulbous green sprigs resembling little banana combs, or wiry, asparagus-like stalks.
The first is called beach bananas (also karkalla or native pigface), the other samphire (also sea asparagus, salicornia or glasswort). They could not look more different, but both belong to a category of plants known as coastal or sea succulents. Similar to cacti, they are water-retentive and thrive in continents from Europe and the Americas to Australia. Typically found growing on sandy dunes by the seaside, coastal lakes, river estuaries and their surrounding wetlands, sea succulents are hardy and resilient plants that survive in salty, sandy or muddy environments. When used in dishes, their often salty, crisp and juicy features can take a dish to a whole new level. We check out just how chefs around town are using them.
Chef-owner Sam Aisbett started getting interested in sea succulents when he was head chef at Quay restaurant in Sydney. An Australian native producer called Outback Pride supplied the restaurant with native sea succulents which they used both raw and cooked. “The more you cook sea succulents, the more you lose the freshness of their flavour,” says Aisbett. “So they are best used as a garnish.” He uses beach bananas sourced from Europe, Japanese land seaweed okahijiki and samphire in his dish of shaved pearl oyster meat with custard to add texture, freshness and saltiness. “The land seaweed is really thin, but of a different texture altogether, almost like fine noodles, while the samphire is more firm and crisp.”
#01-26/27 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street. Tel: 6837 0402
Head chef Rishi Naleendra uses samphire in his dish of braised lamb tongue, herbed yogurt and endive; and ice plant, a South African sea succulent in his dish of barramundi, leek, bonito butter, caramelised onion and algae puffed rice. He says, “The ice plant has a unique icy exterior and high water content, making it a great talking point when presenting it to customers.”
21 Boon Tat Street. Tel: 6221 1911
Salty fingers, wispy finger-like twigs that have a salty, slightly bitter taste, and varieties of iceplants like cordifole (heartleaf ice plant) and ficoïde glaciale (crystalline ice plant) are just some of the sea succulents chef Kirk Westaway uses.
His love for sea succulents was cultivated growing up in the UK. He shares, “I only pair sea succulents with fish as they are found in estuaries which are home to unique plant and animal communities that have adapted to brackish water−a mixture of freshwater draining from the land and salty seawater.”
He uses cordifole, samphire, sea purslane cooked in a butter emulsion with a dash of fleur de sel, and ficoide, raw, as a garnish, in his dish of confit Norwegian halibut with baby squid.
Level 70 Equinox Complex, Swissôtel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road. Tel: 6837 3322
Spanish-Australian head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive uses a variety of sea succulents— mostly from a local supplier who imports them from Dutch company Koppert Cress— to add an extra dimension to his dishes. In his dish of carabinero rice—bomba rice cooked in a carabinero prawn stock, then topped with a disc of carabinero prawn carpaccio—he adds salty fingers as a garnish for added crunch.
He also likes using sea succulents with meats like pigeon and lamb as they “add a nice contrast to the inherent gaminess of these meats and neutralises it”.
Level 3 Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road. Tel: 6732 2234
Executive chef Drew Nocente thinks sea succulents are great with seafood and meat dishes. He demonstrates this in his use of salty fingers, samphire, sea rosemary and sea nibbles in a dish of whole grilled fish; and samphire for his Iberico pork collar.
“For beef or pork, sea succulents enhance the experience of eating these meats. It not only helps to cut the fat in a dish like the Iberico pork collar, but also imparts a fresh and textural component to the dish.”
12 Purvis Street. Tel: 6358 3130
Cover: Whitegrass’s shaved Australian pearl oyster
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s January 2017 Issue, Trending – ‘Coastal Succulents’