Coques au satay

Cockles in satay sauce

This French-Asian fusion dish is the creation of John O’Shea, a chef at the restaurant JJ downstairs from my place in Paris. After having it a couple of times there I had to have the recipe, which John was happy to share. It’s easy and incredibly flavorful.

If cockles are not available where you live, you can substitute vongole (tiny clams). The Asian ingredients can be found at Asian food shops pretty much worldwide these days. As for the bird’s eye pepper, you can use it, or not, depending on how much heat you like.

Serve the cockles in bowls as a starter or over rice as a main dish, decorated with fresh cilantro. At JJ, they sometimes serve the satay sauce over steamed fish, with the deshelled cockles scattered prettily over the plate.

The quantities below will serve 4 people.

2 pounds (1 kilo) cockles
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. green curry paste
1 cup (200 ml) coconut milk
1 large lime or 2 small limes
2 tsp. nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
1 tbsp. sugar, preferably demerara or cassonnade
2 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
1 stem lemongrass

1 red bird’s eye pepper (optional)
a few stems fresh cilantro

An hour before you plan to cook the cockles, immerse them in a large bowl of cold water. Add a teaspoon of sea salt or table salt. Over the hour, change the water twice, pouring it out through a colander and repeating the operaton. This will help the cockles to release any sand inside the shells.

Heat the oil to simmering in a saucepan. Add the curry paste, stirring with a wooden spatula to remove any lumps. Cook for 1 minute.

Turn the heat down to medium. Pour in the coconut milk and stir. Squeeze the lime juice into the pan. Add the nuoc mam and sugar. Stir.

When the mixture is bubbling, add the peanut butter. Stir as it melts.

Cut a 2-inch (5-cm) piece from the lemongrass stem, slice in half and add.

If using the bird’s eye pepper, slice it in half lengthwise, remove all the seeds and add one of the halves to the sauce, reserving the other for decoration.

Allow the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary — the flavors should be salty, sour, sweet and spicy. Remove the lemongrass.

Drain the cockles, toss them into the pot and cover. Allow to cook until all the cockles have opened, about 5 minutes.

Serve piping hot in bowls or over rice, decorated with cilantro leaves. If using the bird’s eye pepper, scatter a few thin slices over the dish. Be sure to bring a bowl to the table for depositing the empty shells. Serves 4.

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