To cook shellfish

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Feeds


Appears in

Old Food

Old Food

By Jill Dupleix

Published 1998

  • About

He cooks all the shellfish in our household, and turns it into a bit of a production. I might add. First, he seeks out live clams or mussels, kept in sea water, then he chooses clean-looking shells, so he doesn’t have to scrub them, then he soaks them, changing the water diligently, and then he cooks them with such care and intimacy that he virtually names each one as it comes out of the cooking broth. His reward, apart from that of absolute freshness? I adore him.


  • 1 kg (2 lb) clams or mussels
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, squashed flat
  • a few black peppercorns
  • a few parsley stems
  • 100 ml ( fl oz) white wine


Soak shellfish in a large pot of cold water for a few hours, changing the water twice during that time, which will help reduce any saltiness. Drain, and scrub if necessary. Pull the little furry beards from the mussels just prior to cooking. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, lidded pan. Add garlic, peppercorns, parsley stems and white wine and heat until bubbling. Add the drained shellfish, cover immediately, and leave over a high heat. After one minute, shake the pan as hard as you can, then remove lid and use tongs to remove any shellfish that have opened up. Cover the pan again and cook for another minute. Remove lid and pick out any more opened shellfish. Clams will virtually pop open as you look at them, making it quite a hectic time for a minute or two.

Continue the process until all shells have opened, and throw out any that don’t, as they should not be used. Strain the broth through a layer of dampened muslin into a small bowl, and taste. Hopefully, it won’t be too salty and will be able to be used in your recipe. If all this is too hard, then find someone who loves doing it, and marry them.

P.S. If you will be using the shellfish in an Asian dish, swap the olive oil for peanut or vegetable oil and the parsley stems for coriander stems, and consider throwing in some crushed lemon grass as well as the garlic.