A quick guide to British marine molluscs
Images: Regula Ysewijn
With over 5,000 miles of coastline, the British Isles offer plenty of opportunities for marine molluscs to set up home. And with the warm waters of the gulf stream washing our shores, conditions are perfect for some of the best shellfish in the world, found just a short sail (or even a wade) from the beach.
How seasonal are they?
It’s complicated. Some have fixed seasons. Down in Dorset, for example, the cockles and clams found at Shellseekers Fish & Game can only be collected from 24th May to 22nd December to ensure a sustainable supply. For other species, availability is the only limiting factor, and that can vary markedly from area to area depending on local conditions. By using different suppliers, traders can keep some species almost constantly available—whelks and the cherrystone clams, for instance. There are also more leftfield limitations: Sussex Fish get its razor clams from ‘bait diggers’ who comb the Sussex coast digging up worms for anglers, and who pull out the clams as a sideline. These diggers only head out when the worms are at their best.
What should we do with them?
Cherrystone clams have a deep, rich flavour and can be eaten raw like oysters with a dash of green tabasco or lemon juice. They also make a wonderful chowder. Razor clams can be baked or grilled as well as poached in stock and a splash of wine. Cockles and clams are usually cooked with white wine and butter. For many people, no trip to the English seaside would be complete without half a pint of winkles or whelks soused in white pepper and vinegar and eaten from a cone.
Where can we buy them?
Molluscs can be found at all the fish stalls, but it is worth going to Richard Hayward’s Oysters for some cherrystone clams or Sussex Fish for some whelks. And you will never be disappointed if you leave Borough Market with some cockles from Shellseekers nestled in your shopping bag.