Braised Cockles and Mussels with Parsley Fried Bread


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For



Appears in

Cooking at the Merchant House

By Shaun Hill

Published 2000

  • About

The wonderful flavour of cockles belie their low price. They are worth buying merely for the quality of stock they produce, however they can also be used instead of clams in any pasta dish. The Welsh coast provides tons of these molluscs but most go straight to the pickling plants.


  • 500g (1lb 2oz/2 cups) cockles or littleneck clams 500g (1lb 2oz/2 cups) mussels
  • 100 ml (fl oz/½ cup) white wine
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato passata (sieved tomatoes)
  • ½ small fresh chilli
  • salt and pepper

For the Fried Bread

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley


To make the fried bread, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the bread on each side until golden. Place half the chopped parsley on a plate and dip the slices of fried bread in it to coat. Set aside in a warm place until ready to serve.

Place the cleaned cockles and mussels in a large pan and pour in the wine. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil for about 2 minutes. When the shells open, they are cooked.

Strain off the liquor and reserve. Pick half the cockles and mussels from their shells and leave the rest.

Fry the shallots and garlic in olive oil until golden. Add the diced tomato, passata and then the chilli. Cook for a few minutes, then add the cooking liquor.

Bring to the boil and simmer for a further 2 minutes before adding the shellfish to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the remaining chopped parsley. Serve with the bread.

The advantage of starting a restaurant where there was none before lies in the clean slate you start with. The house we chose had been much loved and looked after, not bashed about by disgruntled persons in white chefs’ outfits. There were no unloved catering-standard tables and chairs that we would prefer not to have but could not justify replacing, no crew of any description left over from a previous arrangement to tells us that all our plans had been tried before and found not to work. Best of all, there were no existing customers to turn up and ask for the previous repertoire of dishes, or to tell all their friends how we had spoilt their favourite restaurant.

On the debit side, there was a dinky domestic kitchen with carpet on the floor, designed only to cope with the occasional dinner party and in need of a full set of protective armour for the hammering it was about to take. We bought the least and the cheapest equipment we could. Good cooking is about taste, care and skill I told myself, not fancy equipment. But I wasn’t entirely sure.
The composition of the menu is important in that it either attracts or repels diners and its wording reflects the style of the cooking. Prices dictate the level of expectation in all sorts of areas, not just food, but also service and comfort. The style of food and number of dishes dictate the kitchen workload and their cost determine whether or not there is some chance of making a profit. How these conflicting pressures are juggled would decide whether or not we were in business for long. That and how well we cook the grub of course.