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In Coconut Curry Broth


Those who like to spend time at the New England shore might notice something odd when they travel across state lines. I grew up in Massachusetts and was used to the nomenclature for shellfish there - I knew what I would get when ordering “steamers,” “fried clams” or “stuffed quahogs.” When I first moved to Connecticut I was stunned that the seafood restaurants didn’t follow the same naming conventions. I ordered steamers, expecting a big bowl of soft-shelled clams but instead received a bowl of hard-shelled cherrystone clams. It seems that everything was called a cherrystone, even the large quahogs. I muse that I understand why the local Native American tribes didn’t get along - they obviously didn’t speak the same language when it came to shellfish.

Clams and mussels are generally available year-round in local seafood markets but it’s a rare treat to find little cockles. As a matter of fact, I’ve only seen them for sale at Guido’s in Great Barrington. A cockle is one of the smallest bivalve mollusks. It’s wavy shell looks like a scallop but it’s definitely a clam. They’re very flavorful and beautiful making them an elegant summer appetizer dish for company. I sauté them in a light coconut curry sauce and serve them with a chunk of crusty French bread. My recipe serves four as an appetizer or light lunch.

Although the recipe cooks in only 10 minutes, give yourself enough time to scrub the cockles shells and let them soak in salted water to help purge them of sand before cooking. Scrub the cockle shells well with a little brush and some tap water. Mix a saltwater solution of 1/3 cup salt dissolved in 1 gallon of water in a large bowl. Let the scrubbed cockles sit underwater for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours. This should give them enough time to filter the water and purge any sand or grit. Discard the salt water and rinse the clams with fresh water before cooking.

5 pounds of cockles, scrubbed
1/2 cup water
8 stems of cilantro, divided
1 inch of fresh ginger, minced or microplaned
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (shaken well before opening)
1 tablespoon Penzey’s Sweet Curry powder*
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Paper coffee filter or paper towels

Put the water and 4 stems of cilantro, lightly crushed, into a large sauté pan. Add the cockles into the pan, cover it and simmer them for 3-4 minutes until open. Discard any that have not opened. Use a slotted spoon to place the cockles into a large bowl and drain the cooking water through a paper coffee filter or a double layer of paper towels. Reserve the cooking water as it contains a lot of delicious juice from the cockles.

Put the tablespoon of olive oil into the sauté pan. Add the ginger and cook on low heat for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, curry powder, and reserved cooking water. Let it simmer for 3 minutes. Return the cockles to the pan and heat for another minute.

Serve the cockles and sauce in shallow bowls with a sprig of cilantro.