Cockles [or clams] ‘a la marinera’ (berberechos o almejas/chirlas)

This first recipe is from a friend of mine, Carmen Diéguez Alonso, who lives in north-west Spain, Vigo, in the province of Pontevedra, in the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia.  They’re lucky up there to have the best fish and shellfish in the entire country.  Well, her recipe couldn’t be more simple:

Berberechos de Carmen, Cebolla ajo, vino (de lo bueno) sal y guindilla

Just wash the fresh cockles and if not using straight away, leave them in salted water overnight in the fridge.

In virgin olive oil, fry loads of very finely chopped onion, adding crushed garlic when they’re nice and soft.  Then add some good quality white wine, a small chilly pepper (optional) and salt to taste.  Bring to the boil, add the strained cockles and simmer until they’re all opened (this will only take a minute).

Lovely with crusty bread!!

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Now this is the other, more traditional recipe, with clams, but it’s also easy (so long as you manage to free the shells of sand!!!

Almejas o berberechos a la marinera 1

2 kg cockles, clams or baby clams (berberechos, almejas o chirlas)
2 cloves garlic (ajo)
2 onions (cebollas)
1 bay leaf (laurel)
75 ml extra virgin olive oil (aceite oliva virgen extra)
2 tbsps flour
2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley (perejil picado)
2 tbsps homemade tomato sauce (tomate frito casero)
1 tbspn paprika (pimentón dulce de la Vera)
1 chilly pepper (guindilla) – optional
1 glass white wine (vino blanco:D.O Rueda, Protos Verdejo)
Salt to taste (sal)

Method
The most crucial part of this recipe is getting rid of the sand that the clams normally contain, otherwise the whole dish will be ruined (this is only the case with clams, not with cockles). It’s wise to have them soaking around 3 hours prior to cooking them in a large bowl, covered with water and a good handful of coarse sea salt (50-60g per litre of water, changing the water at least 3 or 4 times.

Clams drink and release quite a lot of sand, but don’t worry, as this is a sign that the clams are of good quality.  Try to cook them the same day as you buy them live.

So that your dish turns out truly scrumptious, it’s advisable to steam the clams open first.  Some of them won’t open and you should discard these, also those which are broken.  To steam them, wash them well in cold water.  Heat half a glass of white wine in a casserole.  When it starts to boil, add the bayleaf and then the clams.  Cover the casserole and simmer for around 2-3mins, when they should all be open.  Discard any which haven’t opened and remove the rest with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Strain the liquid through a fine sieve, to remove any remaining sand and set aside.

For the preparation of the Clams ‘a la marinera’:
Peel the onions and garlic.  Remove the centre of the garlic so that it doesn’t repeat on you!  Finely chop the onions, garlic and chilly pepper (if using).  They should be so very finely chopped that you don’t even notice them in the finished dish.

Heat some olive oil in a casserole and add the onion and garlic.  When everything’s well cooked and starting to ‘toast’, add the paprika and stir constantly over a gentle heat for 1 minute, to avoid the paprika burning and spoiling the whole dish.

Add the flour and mix well to form a ‘roux’.

Leave it until it starts taking colour, but without burning.  Now we have the base of the sauce.

Add the glass of white wine.  It’s important to use a good wine, one which you would normally drink – – it’ll make a big difference to the sauce.  Move constantly whilst simmering until the sauce thickens and the alcohol evaporates.  Add the strained liquid which was used to cook the clams in and the tomato sauce.  Simmer over a gentle heat for a further 10 minutes, moving constantly.  Season to taste, although salt isn’t normally required.

Now just add the reserved clams and cook for a further couple of minutes, moving them carefully.  Turn off the heat and leave for a further 2 minutes, so that the clams get impregnated with the sauce.

Serve immediately in clay dishes sprinkled with fresh parsley.  Have your favourite crusty bread ready, as I can assure you that the flavour of this sauce is spectacular!!!   ENJOY!!!

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