I've not been to much in the way of food festivals and exhibitions recently, but I did manage to find time to get to the International Food Exhibition at Excel on Wednesday, the last day of the exhibition.
It's a great trade show this one, specifically for people with links to the food industry. It is quite big, and I never get round all of it, but my main interest is the British regional food section so it doesn't worry me that I tend to miss the International section. It doesn't help that Wednesday is that last day and despite the show being open until 4o'clock, the overseas exhibitors are usually packed up and ready for the off by 2.30... But I like last days, it tends to be quieter and this gives the exhibitors time to talk to people like me.
There were some interesting stands this year, lots of lovely fresh food, and I was so lucky to be around when Channel Fisheries were dismantling their stand and they awarded me with a couple of lemon sole and a large bag of fresh cockles. Now Channel Fisheries are suppliers to many of the heavyweight chefs in the business, the likes of Mitch Tonks, Gordon Ramsey, Mark Hix, Richard Corrigan. Their fish is in Fortnum and Mason's. And judging from the quality of the fish that I had, I am not surprised.
But what I hadn't realised (mainly because I was awed with looking at the gorgeous fish display and didn't think to ask..) but discovered when I was looking at their website is that they will deliver to the door.. to us! Ordinary people with a lust for really fresh fish! Oh what joy! That part of the operation is called Hooked! - neat name! AND I can get the cockles from here if I would like to have them again for a special treat.
Cockles are not something that I can find easily in the supermarket or fishmongers. Mussels yes, but not these little darlings. Oh yes, I can get them ready cooked, ruined with the vinegar they have been pickled in. I know this is a Londoner's seaside delicacy. But I don't like them.
But fresh cockles are another thing. They are delicious. A 2kg bag is a HUGE bag, that needed two pans, and we had two big bowlfuls each as a starter. I cooked them very simply, basically as I would do mussels.
Saute a shallot in a little butter and oil, when soft add a chopped garlic clove and continue to saute for a moment or two. Add in the cockles, and a goodly slug of white wine (enough for about an inch in the bottom of the pan) a little pepper and that is all. Slam on the lid and keep on a high heat for about 4 minutes, shaking from time to time. Check that they are open, if not, give another minute, but don't overcook them, they want to be just cooked or you will lose the freshness and flavour, and they will start to toughen. Use a slotted spoon to put the cockles into a deep soup plate and keep warm in a very low oven.
Allow the liquid in the pan to reduce for another 2 minutes on full heat, add a couple of slices of unsalted butter. Check the seasoning, you might want a little pepper, maybe a little salt (though the cockle liquor is sea water so quite salty) maybe a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a handful of chopped parsley to the bowls of cockles, and then pour the liquor over, making sure to keep an eye and retain the last of the liquid which may be gritty.
Add a nice piece of freshly baked bread with salty butter to soak up all the cockley juices - you may find that many of your shells are empty, but all your cockles will be in the bottom of your lovely parsley scented wine drenched bowl...
Whilst you are eating your cockles, your lemon sole can be cooking happily by itself. I trimmed the head and fins, slashed the fish two or three times, washed and oiled , sprinkled with a little salt, and grilled until the skin just crisped slightly. I then moved them to the preheated oven (about Gas mark 4, 350F/180C) uncovered, and allowed them carry on cooking whilst we ate the cockles. Another quick blast under the grill to crisp the skin whilst I dressed the green salad and we were off again.
What a fabulous fishy meal!