Cockles With Leeks, Pernod, Dill and Cream
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"Oysters, clams, and cockles were cat's magic words, and like all good magic words they could take her almost anywhere." George R. R. Martin (2005)
I do enjoy cockles but, in truth, they are not my favourite mollusc, always seeming to me as being a poorer cousin of clams, which I love. But when the Dorset clam fishery is in closed season I do tend to find myself looking out for ideas with cockles, albeit that cockles are in closed season too and what we get on the market stall of both species is a small amount of permitted bycatch. It was more or less this time of year when I conjured up the idea for "Baked Brill on the Bone with Cockles and Wild Garlic", one of my favourite little creations and perfect this time of year.
In Spain clams, or "berberechos", are very popular. In season they will be on many a restaurant menu, possibly cooked in a northern Spanish manner, but often served raw. A while back I posted a recipe of Matt Tebbutt's for "Cockles and Broad Beans" in which I commented how reminiscent a dish it was of something that may have come from northern Spain. I urge you to try it but it's a little early in the year right now for local broad beans to be on sale.
The present recipe came from Bradley's Fish, a supplier of frozen seafood for many years and one that my family have used for as long as I can remember. Just the combination of ingredients literally spoke for itself and having tried it a few times it works as well as it suggests it should. When I told Bridget (who is no mean cook!) on the market stall about it she immediately commented how good a companion to shellfish that Pernod is. It's the aniseed that is the flavour catalyst - think fennel, for example, but then also consider Elizabeth David's recipe that I posted in "Lobster Courchamps" where the aniseed flavour comes from Pernod and tarragon. I also have a recipe of a similar theme from Jane Grigson up my sleeve for when we get line-caught bass back and available on the stall.
Here the aniseed notes come from Pernod, fennel seeds and dill, and I'd happily say that this is easily one of the best recipes for cockles I have so far come across!
I have made nearly no alterations to the original recipe for this dish. The only thing I have done is to reserve the cream until the end of the recipe. This is for the simple reason that when I cook with cream (also milk, yoghurt and coconut milk) I prefer to introduce it at a stage in the recipe where I have the choice about how hot a temperature it is cooked at and at what speed. More precisely, you can never be quite sure how much liquid will be released from molluscs as they open and my preference is to reduce any excess liquid at a high temperature before adding the cream which may curdle at such a high temperature.
Some lemon wedges and bread and butter to accompany is the usual must for a dish of this kind.
Cockles With Leeks, Pernod, Dill and Cream
Ingredients (serves 2)
1kg cockles, washed in several changes of cold water
1 tbsp olive oil
2 knobs of butter
1 medium leek, white part only, halved lengthways and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed using a pestle and mortar
20ml Pernod (or similar) mixed with 100ml water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
75-100ml double cream
2 tbsp picked fresh dill fronds
Lemon wedges and bread and butter, to serve
Heat the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan or wide saucepan (for which you have a lid) and sweat the leek, garlic and fennel seeds for 5-10 mins over a medium heat to allow the leeks to soften without colouring.
Pour in the diluted Pernod (or similar) and bring to a boil then add the cockles, cover with the lid and cook over a medium-high heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 3-4 mins or until the cockles have opened.
Using a slotted spoon, divide the cockles between two serving plates then bring the sauce again to a boil to reduce if there is too much liquid. Remove and discard the halved garlic cloves then lower the heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Stir in the desired amount of cream along with half to two-thirds of the dill fronds. Once the cream has been incorporated, check and adjust the seasoning, then pour this sauce over the clams, decorate with the remaining dill fronds and serve straightaway with the lemon wedges and bread and butter.
"Baked Brill on the Bone with Cockles and Wild Garlic", Bute Street Seafoodie
"Cockles and Broad Beans", Bute Street Seafoodie
"Cockles With Leeks, Pernod, Dill And Cream", Bradley's Fish, accessed 4 April 2021
"Lobster Courchamps", Bute Street Seafoodie