Found throughout the estuaries of Britain, cockles grow hidden just a couple of inches below the surface of the sand. Raked and handpicked at low tied, cockles are protected by distinctive heart-shaped, farrowed shells and can be enjoyed simply raw, boiled or steamed. Low in fat and high in protein, cockles are a super-sustainable shellfish and a fantastic source selenium; important for healthy metabolism and immune boosting. Cockles are widely available in pickled form throughout the year, with the molluscs being picked predominantly for preservation towards the end of the season.
Seasonal period: September to February
Flavour friends: The sulphurous flavours of garlic is the perfect flavour enhancer to most shellfish, but particularly cockles. Ingredients such as parsley, lemon and white wine are also ideal pairings, adding acidity and freshness to the cockles’ salty flavouring. Spaghetti alle vongole is a perfect example of how to simply get the best out of this mollusc.
Buying, storing and preparing: Source fresh-smelling cockles that are of a similar size with pale, damage-free shells. Wash thoroughly in cold running water to remove any sand or grit and discard any that have cracked shells or fail to close after tapping. Store live molluscs in the fridge covered with a damp tea towel – do not immerse in water. Consume as soon after purchase as possible, keeping no longer than 3 days.
Cooking: Boil quickly in seasoned water, steam in a pan with a lid or enjoy raw with a pinch of pepper and splash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon.
Boiled: 5- 6 minutes (or until the cockles have opened) Steamed: 3 – 4 minutes (or until the cockles have opened)
Words by Helen Upshall