In my mind, the main reason cockles are so great is not because of the excellent flavour of the actual cockle meat itself – which is very good – but the strong flavoured liquid that results from cooking them. Just like its more glamorous relative the mussel, the cockle contains an abundance of naturally salty juices which are released into the saucepan when cooked. Enhanced with a little white wine, shallots and some aromatics like thyme or bay, the result is fantastic, and served with some chips to dunk in the sauce, is a fine meal in itself.
Cockles are also a lovey accompaniment to fish. For this meal, I’ve reduced the liquor from the cockles by half, then added an equal quantity of double cream before reducing further to a fairly light but richly flavoured sauce. I’ve finished it with a nice chiffonade of parsley. The rest of the meal is pretty straight forward; crisp pan-fried cod fillets, and some crushed potatoes with spinach. Wonderful.
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 wedge lemon
- 200 g new potatoes
- 100 g double cream
- 500 g fresh cockles
- 50 g baby shallots (about 2)
- 1 glassful dry white wine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 80 g spinach, washed
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 10 g butter
- freshly cracked black pepper
- sea salt
- vegetable oil, for cooking
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 250 g cod fillet, scaled and pin-boned
Cut the cod fillet into equal sized portions. Remove any bones, and carefully dry the skin with some kitchen paper. Leave it on a board skin side up, allowing it to dry out further. Thoroughly rinse the cockles in cold water.
Place the new potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt, and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn down to a barely trembling simmer and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until tender. You can check this easily by inserting a small knife into a potato; it should pass through with barely any resistance.
Meanwhile, to cook the cockles, place a medium sized pan over a medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Allow the oil to get hot, then add the shallots, thyme, bay, a pinch of salt and a generous pinch of cracked black pepper. Turn the heat to low and sweat the shallots slowly, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until soft and sweet. Now turn the heat to high. Drain the water off the cockles, then add to the pan. Stir once, then add the white wine. Cover with either a lid or some kitchen foil, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the cockles have all opened up. Strain the cockles through a fine sieve over a bowl, reserving the liquid. When the cockles have cooled, remove the cockle meat from the shells, and place in a bowl along with 10 shells, and most of the diced shallots. Discard the remainder of the shells.
To make the sauce, transfer the cockle liquid to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil until it’s reduced by about half. Now add the cream, and continue to reduce until you have a nice sauce consistency. When ready, cover the pan tightly with clingfilm to avoid getting a skin, and set aside.
When the potatoes are done, drain and chop into chunks or crush with the pack of a spoon. Take another pan and place over a medium heat. Add a little vegetable oil and saute the spinach, along with a small pinch of salt, until wilted. Drain of any excess liquid, mix through the potatoes and set aside.
To cook the cod, take a large heavy based frying pan and get it smoking hot over a high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and wait 10 seconds for it to get hot. Season the cod fillets all over with salt, and place in the pan, skin side down. Press the fillets gently for about 10 seconds to make the skin is lying flat. Turn the heat down to medium, and cook for around 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. When the fillets are about two-thirds cooked, add the butter and allow it to foam, then squeeze in the lemon juice. Baste the fillets for about 1 minute until almost cooked, then flip them over, being careful not to break the skin. By this time the butter should have turned a nutty brown colour. Turn the heat off and leave in the pan for 30 seconds.
While the cod is cooking, get the other components of the dish nice and hot. Add the parsley and cockles (including shells) to the sauce. Put a pile of spinach and potatoes in the center of each plate, and 5 shells around. Pour the sauce and cockles over, and place the cod in the center.