Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thai-inspired Spicy Steamed Wild Cockles with Lemongrass and Chiles

I'm taking a break from travel photos to post about some recipes I've been trying.  This one was a keeper!

I found some wild cockles at Costco.  I was looking for mussels or clams.  They had mussels but I was intrigued with the cockles.  I've had clams before but never cockles.  What's the difference you ask?  Well I quickly googled it at Costco.  (What would I do without google?)  Apparently they are basically the same.  Cockles are soft-shelled clams and usually smaller, brinier and have vertical ridges on their shell.  Sounds delicious.  I bought a tray.    

I was going to steam the clams/mussels in a butter, garlic and white wine sauce.  Then inspiration hit me.  I wanted to try a Thai-inspired broth instead.  You know that sour, salty and sweet type of broth that awakens all of your senses at the same time?  I gathered these ingredients.  
The recipe turned out delicious.  The cockles are a real treat.  Where have I been all of my life?  They have a distinct briny taste to them.  Some of the cockles (when cooked) retained a juice sack.  When you ate them, the briny sack burst.  It was delicious!  They are also supposed to be more sandy and gritty than clams so be sure to soak and change the water several times to release all of the sand and grit.  Also, careful with the fish sauce.  Only add more after the cockles are cooked and release some of their brine or it will be very salty.  Really, you can use mussels or clams or cockles or a mixture.  It's a delicious recipe.  Don't forget the french bread to sop up all the extra juices.  

Thai-inspired Spicy Steamed Wild Cockles with Lemongrass and Chiles
Serves 4

4-5 lb. fresh wild cockles (or mussels or clams), scrubbed well (Soak in a large pot of water to allow clams to expel sand and grit.  You will need to change the water several times to get all the sand out)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 c. low salt chicken broth
1/2 c. dry white wine
2-3 stalks lemongrass, trimmed & cut into 1-2 inch pieces (smash them to release flavor)
1 1/2 inch of fresh ginger, skin removed and cut into chunks
3 kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 1/2 a lime peeled off in large strips-about 5 strips)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
juice of 1/2 a lime
1-2 Thai red chiles (1 for a little heat, 2 for a lot), sliced into thin rounds
cilantro (for garnish)
bread (for dipping into sauce)

1) Start soaking your cockles about an hour before cooking.  I changed the water 4 or 5 times and still had some grit.  I started about 30 min prior to cooking. 

2) Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saute pan or pot (with cover) over medium heat.  Add the shallots and stir often until browned, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for an additional 1 minute.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn. 
3) Add the chicken broth, white wine, lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and lime juice to the pan/pot.  Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium low; cover the pan/pot and simmer for about 10 minutes
4) Remove the cover and increase heat to medium-high.  Add the well drained cockles and Thai chiles to the pan/pot.  Cover and simmer until the cockles open, about 3-4 minutes.  Transfer the cockles to serving bowls, throw away any cockle that hasn't opened. 
5) Taste the broth remaining in the pot/pan.  Season to taste.  Ladle broth over the cockles.  Serve with french bread.  

Note: Discard the lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime leaves.  They are not edible.