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Monday, October 8, 2012

Coques - Cockles.They are close cousins of the clam family. Cockles on Your French Seafood Menu.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Updated October 2017

Coques – Cockles
Photograph courtesy of Benjamin Féron.

   Cockles are close cousins of the clam family.  For those who know old British and Irish pub songs the coques on your French menu are the same cockles that Sweet Molly Malone sang about in the street of Dublin's fair city. On French menus coques is the accepted name; however, local names such as Henon or Maillot may make the menu in small towns along France's Atlantic coast.
   When the cockles are on your table as part of a dish’s decoration the shells will vary from white to dark ivory, sometimes brown. They are somewhat triangular with pronounced ribs.
   For over 100 years in the UK and Ireland, cockles were traditional pub fare.  The usual recipe only required boiling in water with salt and pepper. When ready the cockles were sprinkled with vinegar and then eaten hot or cold with bread and butter.  Not any longer as cockles are returning to the British menu.  Now, like in France, cockles will be boiled, but that will probably be in an herb-based bouillon. As British chefs add cockles to the menu of upscale restaurants, the prices go up, and the recipes leave tradition behind.
   In France, cockles will be on the menu in nearly every seafood restaurant.  On a seafood platter, they may be served raw like clams or oysters.  Cockles may be fried with garlic, served with pasta, cooked in white wine or grilled on skewers. Cooked cockles may be cut up and served cold in salads, cooked with fish or other shellfish or served on their own with fresh mayonnaise.
   One word of warning: in French the word coque also means shell.  So, on French menus, the word coque may also be used for œuf à la coque, boiled eggs, crabe préparé en coque, crab prepared in its shell, etc. With many references to shells on  French menus read carefully..
A platter of cockles and mussels cooked in white wine.
Photograph by courtesy if Cooking etc.

For those new to cockles consider them a member of the clam family.  The menu may offer:
Fricassée Marinière de Coques Bretonnes aux Pâtes Fraiches- Cockles from Brittany stewed in white wine and served with fresh pasta.

Risotto aux Coques- A cockle risotto.
    Pâtes Fraîches au Coques
Cockles with fresh pasta.
Photograph courtesy of Cremo.
   Petite Salade d’Épinards aux Coques et Vinaigrette à la Noix – A small spinach salad served with cockles and flavored with a vinaigrette sauce made with walnut oil.
  Filet de Saint Pierre à la Plancha et Crémeux de Coques - Filet of John Dory; the fish. Cooked on a plancha, and served with a creamy cockle sauce. A plancha or planxa is a very thick iron plate much used in Basque and southwestern French cooking.
Amateur cockle diggers at sunset.
Photograph by courtesy of Tim Bradshaw.
    The cockles on your plate or plates are not sea-farmed from birth like France’s oysters and mussels.  Cockles are gathered when fully grown, or gathered wild when young, and then re-sown in areas where there is plenty of their favorite food, plankton.
A flat-bottomed cockle boat.
Photograph by courtesy of Mundoo.

France has its own cockles but not enough to meet even half the local demand. Nearly 50% of the local requirements are imported, a large part from the UK.  The most famous cockle growing area in the UK is Penclawdd in Wales on the Burry Estuary. From there the young cockles that will be re-sown, may only be gathered by hand to insure a sustainable source. 
Cockles in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan – escopinya), (Dutch -  hartschelpen), (German - herzmuschel), (Italian - cuore edule or vuori di mare), (Spanish - berberecho or croque).


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

1 comment:

  1. In French the word coque also means shell and so it will be used for œuf à la coque, boiled eggs, crabe préparé en croque, crab prepared in its shell, and in many other references to a shell.