Wednesday 12 February 2014

Susan's Beachcomber Banquet

Lashing wind and rain coinciding with spring tides, winter so far has been mild but very stormy, parts of
Brittany have been flooded but if you’re looking to be frugal the trick is to turn every threat into an opportunity. So for every damaging storm driven high tide, there is an equally profound low. So low that at the right moment areas of coastline, normally well underwater become accessible to the low water fisherman – peche a la pied as the French call it.

At such times, the shoreline becomes a paradise for the lovers of shell fish. I don’t know all the holes where crab and lobster can be found but I’m as good as the next man in digging cockles and clams, all you need is a small rake or a knife and sack to carry home the prizes.

First on the list  Cockles, often you don’t have to dig for these, simply stroll along the low tide shoreline and you’ll see them laying there waiting for you. I love cockles, they’re sweeter than mussels and about four times the price in the local shops. You can use them as you would mussels to make Marinier. Here’s how. Bring them home in a bucket of seawater and leave them in the cold overnight to purge. Clean the shells if you need. Then melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and add finely chopped onions and garlic. When the onions are softened add the cockles and a half glass of white wine or dry cider. Do not add anymore liquid, the cockles will provide than. Cook them for a minute or so, tossing them in the pan to make sure they all feel the heat. They’re cooked when the shells open. Discard any that don’t open. Now toss in a bit of chopped parsley and turn them into a bowl along with the cooking juice.

Clams are slightly harder to harvest, you have to dig for them with a knife – look for the telltale sign in the sand – find two small holes, close together and there should be a clam under there.

Add cooked cockles, clams and garlic to spaghetti and you have a dish that wouldn't be cheap in a harbour side restaurant.

But best of all by far, is Susan’s Beachcomber’s Banquet – you can make it with any (or all) of the shellfish you find – mussels, cockles, oysters, clams and razor fish – even limpets (or Chinese hats as the French call them). It’s a meal fit for a king or queen.

The cost – your time, the price of a bit of bread, and the value of a few items you have in the larder anyway.

Here’s how to do it.


Basically  its an exercise in  cooking, stuffing, grilling and then eating straight from the dish whilst piping hot.  In Brittany -  we’d call it a Fruits de Mer Farcie, and you’d pay a lot for it in a restaurant.

Serves four – preparation time 20 mins - cooking time 10 mins

It doesn’t matter how many you gather, even half a dozen little molluscs are worthwhile.  Use the quantities given as a guide only.

3lb of shellfish - oysters, mussels, cockles & clams
4 garlic cloves crushed
100g butter
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt & pepper
2 oz fresh breadcrumbs (optional)


  1. Clean beards off the mussels, place shellfish in a bucket of salty water for 20    mins., to rid them of sand
  2. Prepare stuffing, by making up a garlic & parsley butter. 
  3. Put the shellfish into a pan of water over a high heat. Shake the pan around until shellfish have opened. Discard any unopened ones.  Keep half the shells for serving. 
  4. Place a piece of meat into each shell and top up with the stuffing mixture, add salt & pepper and breadcrumbs if wished.
  5. Arrange on a tray and grill until the stuffing is golden brown and bubbling.
  6. Serve immediately with crusty chunks of bread for mopping up juices- enjoy.

Alternatively, try a stuffing of finely chopped fried bacon, mushrooms, breadcrumbs and parsley.