I remember the first time I tried cockles. On a family camping holiday in Pembrokshire where I was playing in the sand, and suddenly started scooping out mottled brown and white shells between our fingers by the dozen. When Dad realised what was happening he pegged it back to the car, drove to the nearsest beach shop and came back with a couple of sandcastle buckets which we filled to the brim. We ate them simply steamed and despite all the sand and grit I was hooked.
So last week when we found ourselves in a little creek in Cornwall at low tide our eldest son Jago picked up a closed cockle shell and I pegged it back to the car to get a crabbing bucket and a couple of spades. I was perhaps a little over zealous, we only found a couple more and had a very sorry looking bucket. Then I noticed a rather professional looking man on the far bank armed with a large rake and two 20lt buckets. Surreptitously out of the corner of my eye I noticed he was digging around large clumps of seaweed and in the dips in the sand and quickly instructed my boys to do the same. Our fortunes quickly changed and we soon had a healthy bucket of free food.
Although the boys were desperate to try the cockles that evening I had to persuade them that although when they were babies they always insisted on shovelling sand into their toothless little mouths upon every trip to the beach these tasty little treats would be best if we let them clean themselves out for a bit. We tipped them into a shallow tray in a single layer, then mixed 35g of salt into a litre of water, and poured it in until they were just covered then popped them into the fridge overnight. It's important to do this in a wide shallow container so the water can stay aerated, as the oxygen can quickly become depleted and the cockles will suffocate. The following day I cooked them up with some tomatoes, linguine and kale. They were the best I have ever eaten and this isn't me being big headed about my culinary skills but a matter of timing. Cockles are at their plumpest after the summer when the sea is most fertile and before the winter when they start to use up their reserves.
Next we headed to a patch of rocks where on a previous visit I had noticed a few pacific oysters growing but was unable to detach them from the rocks due to a lack of tools. This time however I came prepared with a chisel, mallet, shucking knife, bucket and tupperware. When we arrived my jaw hit the floor, where there were previously a few oysters; there were now hundreds. My goal was to get these off the rocks in one piece so I could keep them alive until we were ready to eat them, so I started to gently tap at them with the chisel and mallet and I got so close... But part of the shell would break at the last minute so I changed tack and using the shucking knife started to pry the top shell away and scoop the meat into the tupperware.
Although I know the water in this area is very clean and being October there is low risk of toxic algae there is no way I'm going to feed my family raw oysters which have not gone through UV treatment or from a certified oyster bed. However I couldn't resist tipping a couple down my throat. Although as you can imagine they tasted amazingly fresh and delicious, it was only marginally worth it because of the anxiety that followed, terrified that I would be in for a very unpleasant experience. However my stomach stayed in one piece and we quickly got on with cooking them up. Firstly I simply pan fried a few in garlic butter and squeeze of lemon juice. The kids had the same reaction to when they first tried raw oysters and rapidly spat them out. This was the first time I had eaten oysters like this and was pleasantly surprised, think fresh plump mussels but with a creamier texture. So next we dipped the remaining oysters in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and fried them. This got a massive thumbs up from the kids and I'm happy they managed to enjoy what they caught, but when I bit into one it was very quickly apparent that all subtlety of flavour had been lost. What I enjoy most about this experience is without having to fork out a bundle of cash for these coveted bi-valves I can experiment with new ideas and recipes and thoroughly recommend giving it a go. However if you think I'm going to give away the location of these little beauties you can jog on.