This recipe started out as an idea for an accompaniment to roasted halibut, but quickly turned into a lovely one-pot meal in its own right. Cockles and clams are in season at the moment and very delicious. This recipe will work perfectly with either clams or cockles, or even mussels.
700 g live cockles or clams, or mussels; 2 small, moderately waxy potatoes (Marfona are perfect); ½ medium fennel bulb (approximately 80 g); 2 small shallots; 4 thinly sliced rashers smoked streaky bacon or about 40 g of lardons; ½ pint dry farmhouse cider; 1 tsp fennel seeds; 2 tsp virgin rapeseed oil; 2 dessert spoons of double cream; seasoning: black pepper and cider vinegar; 1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil, tarragon or parsley (or a combination)
Put the cockles in a bowl and cover with fresh water, changing the water about four or five times over the course of an hour to get rid of the sand.
Meanwhile peel the potatoes, chop into smallish dice and place in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, add a little salt and simmer until just tender. Drain and allow the water to evaporate.
Finely chop the shallots and fairly coarsely chop the fennel (into about 5 mm pieces). If using bacon rashers cut into approximately 1 cm square pieces.
Heat the rapeseed oil to a medium temperature in a pan that will be large enough to hold everything (and has a lid). Cook the bacon until just done (not too much colour), with the fennel seeds. Remove the bacon and seeds then add the chopped shallots and fennel bulb to the hot fat. Cook gently until the shallots are soft but the fennel still has some bite. Neither should colour. Remove from the pan and put the bacon, shallots and fennel with the potatoes. It doesn’t matter if a few pieces stay in the pan.
Scrub the cockles and rinse.
Turn the heat right up, pour the cider into the pan and bring to the boil. Put the cockles in the pan and put the lid on. Shake occasionally until all the shells have opened. Remove the cockles and boil the liquor for about a minute to reduce a little. Stir in the cream and boil again. Season with black pepper and a sprinkling of cider vinegar.
Turn down the heat, return the potato, bacon, shallots, fennel and cockles to the pan mix and heat through then mix in half the herbs.
Serve in bowls and sprinkle over the remaining herbs.