Let’s hear it for cockles; whilse the more fashionable clams are lauded and popular, the cockle languishes behind. It’s about time their value was reclaimed. If you see them, do buy. The return on them is the same for the poor fisherman as clamming, for less reward. With a lovely flavour and texture they’re equally as easy and quick to cook as clams or mussels; cook with garlic, wine or cider, or add them to a fish soup.
Cockles with fennel, bacon, potatoes and cider
Put 700g live cockles in a bowl and cover with fresh water, changing the water about four or five times over the course of an hour to get rid of the sand. Meanwhile peel 2 small, moderately waxy potatoes, chop into smallish dice and place in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, add a little salt and simmer until just tender. Drain and allow the water to evaporate. Finely chop 2 small shallots and fairly coarsely chop 1⁄2 medium fennel bulb (into about 5mm pieces). Cut 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon into approximately 1 cm square pieces. Heat 2 tsp virgin rapeseed oil to a medium temperature in a pan that will be large enough to hold everything (and has a lid). Cook the bacon until just done (not too much colour), with 1 tsp fennel seeds. Remove the bacon and seeds then add the chopped shallots and fennel bulb to the hot fat. Cook gently until the shallots are soft but the fennel still has some bite. Neither should colour. Remove from the pan and put the bacon, shallots and fennel with the potatoes. It doesn’t matter if a few pieces stay in the pan. Turn the heat right up, pour 1⁄2 pint dry farmhouse cider into the pan and bring to the boil. Put the cockles in the pan and put the lid on. Shake occasionally until all the shells have opened. Remove the cockles and boil the liquor for about a minute to reduce a little. Stir in 2 dessertspoons of double cream and boil again. Season with black pepper and a sprinkling of cider vinegar.Turn down the heat, return the potato, bacon, shallots, fennel and cockles to the pan mix and heat through then mix in half the herbs. Serve in bowls and sprinkle over 1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil, tarragon or parsley (or a combination).