It was the day after that snowy weather a couple of weeks back. I woke to find an email from a friend. “Look on the table outside the door,” it said. “I got you a present.” Tucked into an inch of otherwise unmolested snow was a bag of cockles, delivered, much to my embarrassment, while I was still slumbering lazily in bed.
I peeled open the bag to reveal the delicately ridged black and tan shells, some of the plumpest I’d ever seen. A few hours later, they had become a simple, but indulgent lunch, steamed open with a splash of vermouth and with a glug of cream stirred into their rock-pool juices.
If cockles prove elusive, use mussels or clams instead. This isn’t so much a recipe as a blueprint.
1kg cockles (or mussels or clams)
2 tbsp butter
2 medium banana shallots (echalions), finely chopped
2 plump cloves garlic, finely chopped
Leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
125ml dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
75ml double cream
2 handfuls chopped flatleaf parsley
Good bread, toasted if you want
Discard any cockles with broken shells, then sort through the rest, tapping them briskly on the work surface. They should all close. Discard any that remain stubbornly open.
Rinse the shells a couple of times in cold water, then place in a bowl. Add cold water to cover them by about 2cm, then stir in 1 tsp fine sea salt. Leave for at least 30 mins – they will slowly purge themselves of sand. Drain and rinse.
Over a medium heat, melt that butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallots, garlic and thyme and stir for a minute or so, until the shallots start to soften. Don’t let them burn.
Tip in the cockles and turn up the heat. Stir for a minute, then pour in the vermouth and cover with a lid. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, shaking the pan occasionally, until the cockles have opened. Discard any that don’t.
Scoop the cockles into bowls using a slotted spoon. Bring the juices to a boil and reduce a little if they seem a bit watery. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, then put back on the hob and bubble for a minute or two to thicken slightly. Season with pepper, stir through most of the parsley and pour over the cockles. Scatter with a little more chopped parsley and serve with bread or toast for mopping the juices.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.