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Cockles are small clams, there are over 200 types and are found on sandy sheltered beaches all over the world. They have been raked up since probably before the roman times. Women used to be the ones to rake for them and bring in some money for their families.
That has now changed and teams of fishermen are the ones now doing this job. Cockles can now be found sold in jars at supermarkets or in fishmongers. Some coastal areas still have a fishmongers van going round selling door to door.
They are collected by raking the sands at low tide. This can be done by hand with a rake or sometimes tractors will be used by fishermen who have a license for large harvesting.
These days the mollusc industry is monitored as over harvesting left a shortage.
In South Wales a traditional meal was cockles with bacon and laver bread eaten for breakfast to provide energy for coal miners and workers.
Molluscs are best cooked by steaming but can also used in chowders and more imaginative recipes.
The best cockle spots in Wales are as follows:
Major Cockle Beds (Permits may be required)
Smaller Cockle Beds
- Carmarthen Bay
- Colwyn Bay
- Milford Haven
- Poppit Sands
The Magna Carta grants every citizen the right to collect up to eight pounds of cockles from the foreshore. Larger quantities will require a picking permit.
If you fancy a cockle meal whilst on holiday - here is a recipe for Cockle Pie or in Welsh "Pastai Gocos"
- 1 quart (2 pints/cups) cockles
- 1 cup water
- 1 bunch Spring onions
- 4 slices bacon
- 1/2 cup of milk
- Pinch of pepper
- 8oz short-crust pastry
- Leave cockles in slightly salted water sprinkled with oatmeal overnight
- Drain and scrub thoroughly
- Place in a saucepan of salted water for 3 minutes until the shells open
- When cool remove cockles from their shells
- Line the sides of a pie dish with short crust pastry
- Cover the bottom of the dish with cockles
- Chop up the onions and sprinkle over the cockles
- Add a layer of finely chopped bacon
- Repeat, ending with a layer of cockles
- Pour in the liquid in which the cockles were boiled
- Add pepper to taste
- Use strips of pastry to criss-cross the top and brush with milk
- Cook for 20-25 minutes in oven at gas mark 7, 425F
For a more sophisticated, but easy recipe;
Pan-fried Halibut with sprout tops and a cockle and muscle and clam sauce
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 150g/5.5oz butter
- 4 x 150g/5.5oz fillets halibut, skin on
- 2 sprout tops, leaves shredded
- 200ml/7fl oz. white wine
- 200g/7oz cockles
- 200g/7oz mussels, cleaned and beards removed (discard any mussels that don't close when tapped)
- 200g/7oz clams, cleaned
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped chervil
- Heat a medium frying pan until hot, and then add the olive oil. Place the halibut fillets skin side down in the pan, cook for 3-5 minutes then turn the fillets over. Add 25g/1oz of the butter then remove the pan from the heat and set aside to rest.
- Heat a medium frying pan until hot, add another 25g/1oz of the butter and the sprout tops and cook for 3-4 minutes until the sprout tops have wilted.
- Meanwhile, place a large saucepan on the heat and add the white wine. When it's boiling add the cockles, mussels and clams and place a lid on top. Cook for 2-3 minutes on a high heat.
- When the shells have opened drain the shellfish, reserving the liquor, then remove the flesh from the shells. Discard any clams or mussels that have not opened.
- Heat a medium frying pan and add half the remaining butter (50g/2oz). Fry the shallot until soft, add the shellfish liquor then cook until the volume of the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the remaining butter in small pieces until the sauce thickens.
- Add the picked cockles, mussels and clams to the pan and finish off with the chopped chives and chervil.
- To serve, place the sprout tops in the centre of on the plate, add the halibut fillet and drizzle the sauce around the plate.
Enjoy these seaside delicacy meals.