Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cockles, leeks and many spices

I recently had some okayish mussels, in a quite predictable setting with a rather pedestrian style but this time with an unexpected finale. Well, I guess if you're going to have them without an R in the month, a bit of time spent on the toilet is what you deserve.

This hasn't put me off. Foolishly we're now experimenting with cockles out of season, and I can assure that this number has been tried and tested in a few guises, thus far without the bathroom being a part of the recipe.. I recall first making a version of this as the soupy bit for a steamed turbot dish, but was so happy with the flavours that I thought it deserved its own moment of glory. 

Cockles are one of our more underused native shellfish, and it is a shame that they are more recognisable all crinkled up in the pain of a vinegar pickling by the seaside. Do try with cockles as I'm telling you to, but don't stop there with what our craggy shores offer. Maybe just wait till September or there abouts to throw all caution to the sea wind.

Cockles leeks and many spices
Serves about 6

800g leeks (you can use baby ones if you've got some)
2 tblsp olive oil
3 large red chillis, chopped
2 small green chillis, sliced into rounds
Pinch each of cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and caraway seeds
1 lemon grass stalk sliced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
500g fresh cockles (in the shell)
2 glasses white wine
300ml fish stock
100ml double cream
20g parsley (rough-chop the leaves, and discard the stalks)
20g thyme, chopped
70g butter (unsalted and at room temperature)
black pepper

Boil a pan of salted water. Trim the leeks, and blanch for 6-8 minutes until al dente. Run them immediately under cold water until they reach room temperature (they should feel neither hot nor cold), then cut into thick rounds, or if using baby leeks, into halves or thirds. In a deep frying pan heat the olive oil until nearly smoking. Chuck in all of the spices and aromats apart from half of the red chilli, and toss quickly for half a minute.

Throw in the cockles, then a minute later the white wine, and put the lid on. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the fish stock, toss in the leeks, and reduce the liquid by half. Lower the heat, stir in the double cream, rough-chopped parsley leaves and chopped thyme. Whisk in the butter in knobs and season with black pepper (it should not need any salt). Serve in shallow bowls, discarding any cockles that are not open. Sprinkle the remainder of the chilli and prop the bathroom window open to enjoy properly...