March 7, 2011
Cockles are well known edible marine clams that can be found around most of the UK coastline in sandy bays and estuaries. The unmistakeable globular shells, which have been much used decoratively, are thick are deeply ribbed and from the side, attractively heart-shaped.
Cockles are filter feeders. They are not as mobile as some bivalves and as a consequence choose to inhabit the top 5 cm of surface of sediments. They can be abundant where they have not been over-fished by commercial dredgers. Population densities of 10,000 per square metre have been recorded. If harvested sustainably, therefore, cockles are a great food resource for shorebirds and shore-folk alike.
In the last year or so, the cockle beds on the south coast of Kent have had a huge settling of spat (baby cockles), which should go a long way to sustaining the population.
However, the mortality rate is very high and in the early winter tens of thousands of young and mature cockles were killed by severe frosts affecting exposed animals between tides.
The traditional method of harvesting them (for a living) is to use a wooden rake but to find enough to make a meal for a couple of people can take little effort and a lazy hour of time. Many estuary stocks are protected or have associated trigging (cockling) rights, so make sure you gather some local knowledge beforehand. An ebb tide is good. As the tide recedes cockles are often left stranded and exposed, washed out of any slight rise in the shore.
Given time, many will pull themselves below the surface using their muscular foot, or they may just tough it out on the surface for 12 hours.
Birds will find them and so will people.
Your haul will almost certainly need de-gritting. If left overnight in a bucket of sea water that is not too deep and with a large surface area, the cockles will spit out most of the sand they have taken in.
Cooking is easy; boiling water for about 5 minutes, until most of the cockles open. If some don’t or open only partially, discard them. Fresh cockles are delicious with crusty bread, especially if a generous glass of white wine and a knob of butter is added to the cooking water, but they can also form an ingredient of any number of seafood dishes.
Cockles and Carragheen with lemon, peppers and ginger over long pasta
Cockles – approx.1.25 kilos in their shells, 140g without
50ml white wine or mirin
1 litre water
Boil the cockles in fresh water and wine in a saucepan, with a knob of butter until they are all open (about 4-5 minutes). Drain immediately and remove the meat from the shells. Set aside in a small dish. Reserve 350-500ml of the liquid they were cooked in. Strain out any grit.
Ingredients; (for the sauce)
¾ red pepper
½ – ¾ yellow pepper
75g fresh tomato
2cm fresh ginger root
1 medium onion
1 small, hot chilli
140g freshly cooked cockles (see above)
10g of dried Carragheen (reconstituted)
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼ lemon, thinly sliced
25g butter + vegetable oil
230g Fusilli Bucati Lunghi or Linguini or Spaghetti
Heat butter and oil in frying pan. Chop up all the fresh ingredients. First add onion to pan over high heat, add sugar to caramelise for 1 minute. Add teaspoon white wine vinegar. Then add peppers and chilli; cook for further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for 1 more minute. Add lemon, ginger, but only half the Ramsons. Pour over about 350ml of the cockle water and throw in the Caragheen. Stir in the ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the seaweed to thicken the sauce while the pasta cooks. Add the fish sauce at this stage and season.
Rinse the cooked cockles and add to the pan, along with the rest of the Ramsons, 2 minutes before the end. Do not overcook the cockles.
Drain the pasta serve and pour on the sauce. 2 portions
If you fancy some practical cockling experience come and join us on our shrimping and sandy shore foraging course at Greatstone on Sea on Saturday April 9th. Look at the courses page for details.