How To Cook Shellfish, With Mark Hix

Two ways to tackle crustaceans at home

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We have some of the world’s best shellfish in the UK, but we tend not to cook much of it at home. Whether that’s due to the fact that we don’t know what to do with it or that shellfish is generally seen as a pain to prepare, is open to debate. If we were in France, Spain or Portugal, we’d regularly be hitting local fish markets to fill our boots with a variety of molluscs and crustaceans.

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I reckon it’s about time we changed our shopping habits. As a country, we produce so much fantastic seafood that it seems a waste to see it all exported to Europe. Here, to help you get started, I’ve pulled together two recipes featuring shellfish you may never even have considered cooking with.

Always buy your shellfish alive and from a trusted source. Closed shells are essential – avoid buying anything with open shells as your fishmonger shouldn’t be selling it in the first place. Oh, and crabs and lobsters should most certainly be crawling – unless of course they’ve already been cooked.

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Cockles, Chilli and Garlic with Spaghetti (above)
Serves 4

British cockles can be as rewarding as clams, and cost only a fraction of the price. I’m talking fresh cockles in the shell here, not the gritty ones you can buy off seafood stands. Most good fishmongers will stock live cockles or be able to get hold of them. Cockles need to be well rinsed under running cold water for a while and agitated using your hands every so often to remove any grit from their grooved shells.

Ingredients:
500g good-quality spaghetti
100ml white wine
1kg cockles, washed 
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4tbsps olive oil
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes
6 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150g butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1 | Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water to the packet instructions, then drain, saving a little of the cooking liquid.
2 | Heat the wine in a large saucepan, add cockles and cook over a medium heat with the lid on, shaking every so often, for 3–5 minutes until the cockles have all opened.
3 | Drain over a bowl to catch the juices and set aside. Remove half of the cockles from their shells and also put to one side.
4 | Meanwhile, gently cook the shallots in the olive oil for a couple of minutes with the chilli flakes and garlic, then add the butter and the cockles’ cooking liquor. Add the spaghetti and toss together on a low heat, then add the cockles and season. The sauce should be just coating the spaghetti: if not, add pasta liquid, oil and butter. Serve immediately.

Scrumpy Deep-Fried Oysters with Wasabi Mayonnaise
Serves 4

I often find these deep-fried beauties will lure those who think they don’t like oysters. Don’t be tempted to use native oysters for this as it’s a complete waste of good shellfish. Small to medium rock oysters are perfect. If you are not experienced at opening them, then just ask your fishmonger to shuck them for you – but keep the cupped half shells.

Ingredients:
120g gluten-free Doves Farm self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
200ml cold cider
12 rock oysters, shucked, and their half-shells
Oil for deep frying
Salt and black pepper

For the mayonnaise:
1 tbsp wasabi
1tbsp good-quality mayonnaise

Directions:
1 | To make the batter, put the flour into a bowl and slowly whisk in the cider until you have a smooth consistency, then season.
2 | Meanwhile, heat some vegetable oil to 160–180°C (320–360°F) in a deep-fat-fryer or heavy-based saucepan (no more than half full). Dry the oysters on kitchen paper. Test the oil by dropping in a little batter: if it browns after a minute or so it’s ready.
3 | Dip the oysters into the dusting flour first and shake off the excess before dipping into the batter. Cook them six at a time for a minute or so until they are crisp and light golden.
4 | Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate with kitchen paper on it. Then lightly season with salt.
5 | In a small bowl, whisk the wasabi and mayonnaise together. To serve, spoon a little sauce into each half-shell and place an oyster on top.

Taken from Esquire's February issue, on newsstands now.

Photographs by Jason Lowe

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MORE FROM MARK HIX:

The Ultimate Pork Crackling
Cooking With Wils Mushrooms
How To Cook With Cider
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