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  • Bute St Seafoodie

Cockle 'Popcorn' with Chilli Vinegar

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

"Oh, no!" Hazel wailed. "Popcorn! Our fatal weakness!”

Hazel Levesque (2014)

This genius recipe came from Tom Kerridge, as do so many genius recipes. I found it in "Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food". It's timely too, as the Poole Harbour clam fishery closes from now until the end of May for stock regeneration (something the Marine Stewardship Council explicitly applaud) so clams are off the menu in the Bute Street Seafoodie kitchen for 5 months and due focus is turned to their molluscmate, the cockle.

Seriously, these are prrruprrr good, as the big man himself would say (and I spent a very happy few years in the West Country). Crispy coating with vinegar, chilli and salt in the mix really tingles the palate. And they're deservedly called "popcorn" - boy, do these things pop in the oil! Aprons on for the cooking of this one!

This could now be my favourite way with cockles and I shouldn't be surprised if it converted a cocklephobe or two.

As a rough guide, 1kg of cockles is approximately 70 cockles - I have counted more than once! It's quite handy to know because you can then just divide up to get the number of cockles per person. But having made this dish using different quantities each time I've always ended up eating the lot and I could definitely eat all 70 from a kilo. Whether I'd eat anything much after is a different question.

It is quite a nice touch to serve the cockle 'popcorn' in newspaper wraps but the sort of basket in which scampi would traditionally be served is another option for an attractive presentation.

Cockle 'Popcorn' with Chilli Vinegar

Ingredients (Serves 2-4 as a snack)

1kg cockles, washed thoroughly

250ml (approx) whole milk

100g plain flour

50g cornflour

35g fine polenta

2 fresh red chillies (or quantity to taste), finely chopped

Sea salt flakes, quantity to taste

Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep-frying

For the Chilli Vinegar

150ml dark malt vinegar

25g brown sugar

2 dried hot red chillies


  1. Make the Chilli Vinegar in advance. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a saucepan and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Pour this into a vinegar dispenser along with the dried chillies and allow to cool. This can be kept in the fridge indefinitely.

  2. Put a splash of water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cockles, cover the pan and cook for about 5 mins until the cockles have opened. Drain through a colander and, when cool enough to handle, remove the meats from the shells. Put the meats in a bowl, pour in sufficient milk to submerge them, then cover the bowl with cling film and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

  3. When ready to cook, drain the cockle meats from the milk and keep aside.

  4. Combine the two flours and the polenta in a large bowl. Mix well.

  5. Heat sufficient oil in saucepan or wok to 180°C.

  6. Take a first batch of cockle meats (only as many as will not overcrowd the pan) and dredge them in the flour and polenta mix. Shake off the excess coating then transfer them into the hot oil and deep-fry for about 5 mins until they have crisped up and are golden in colour. It is important not to overcrowd the pan as they will not crisp and may clump together. Remove this first batch to a plate lined with kitchen paper, sprinkle with some of the chopped chilli and some sea salt flakes and keep warm.

  7. Repeat with the next batch until all the cockles are cooked then serve with the chilli vinegar.


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