May 10th, 2010

Pan-Fried John Dory with Cockles, Samphire and Cockle Velouté

This dish is Spring on a plate. I felt overcome with relief when I finally saw the blossoms covering the trees and the grass growing at the speed of light. I only mowed the lawn last weekend and it’s already peering over the borders. It’s great that summer is on it’s way, preceded by a glorious spring which provided a wonderful array of fresh seasonal produce. It finally all makes sense why we celebrate Easter not only for the religious reasons but also to celebrate and thank  Mother earth for bearing such wonderful gifts.

Cockles and whelks are synonymous with the British seaside, pickled in a vinegary solution, eaten on the pier out of a white polystyrene cup with a plastic fork. Wow I hope these thoughts have just evoked a few good old childhood memories.

I love them for their flavour especially in the way I cook them as they fill the pan with the’ taste of the sea’ . Steaming them quickly in a hot pot with white wine and lots of sliced shallots and then using the cooking liquid to make the creamy cockle velouté. A rich full flavoured helping of the sea,delicately coating the subtle soft flesh of the lightly cooked John Dory, crispy pillows of pan-fried gnocchi and crisp salty samphire and juicy clams, all the flavours of the sea with bags of texture.

This plate of food is the kind that I would definitely not get bored with. It often happens  that when I eat in  a restaurant I do not finish my main course, the reason being  is that I get bored with the sameness of the textures and flavours, especially if it’s a large portion. John Dory is an attractive flat fish with a large head and a distinctive large black spot on its side, said to be the thumbprint of St Peter. The flesh is slightly sweet when super fresh and compliments the sweetness of the fresh cockles in this delicious recipe.

I added the gnocchi for the texture and the fresh samphire reminds me of how incredibly lucky I am to live where I do. It’s close enough for a day trip to Norfolk or Suffolk to pick samphire and sea purslane and purchase a net of fresh cockles from the boats. I can pop off to London’s Billingsgate market to pick up a fresh John Dory from the South coast. I’m spoiled for seasonal choice!

Steamed Cockles

  • 1kg fresh cockles, washed
  • 2 banana shallots
  • 2 large sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 250ml dry white wine

Soak the cockles in fresh cold water overnight and then wash them under running cold water for 20 minutes to wash away all the sand. If there are any open cockles, discard them immediately.

Drain the washed cockles in a colander. Peel and finely slice the banana shallots and add these together with the whole sprigs of parsley to the cockles.

Heat a large saucepan over high heat and, as it approaches "smoking hot", add the cockles, sliced shallots and parsley. Shake the pan, add the wine and fit a tight fitting lid. Keep the pan on the heat and give it a gentle shake. Steam the cockles for two minutes.

Once all the shells have opened, remove the pan from the heat and immediately transfer the cockles to a fine sieve, lined with muslin, placed over a bowl to collect the cooking juices.

Pick the cockle meat from the shells and return to the passed cooking juices, then chill.

Cockle Velouté

  • 250ml fish stock
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 1/2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 150ml cockle wine cooking liquid
  • 100ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly cracked white pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Once the butter starts to foam, add the sliced shallots and crushed coriander seeds and sweat until transparent with no colour.

Add 150ml of the cockle wine cooking liquid and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the fish stock, bring the sauce to the boil and cook until reduced by half.

Add the cream, bring the sauce back to the boil and pass the velouté through a fine sieve into a small saucepan. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Chill and set aside until needed.


  • 250g Desiree potatoes, peeled
  • 70g "00" pasta flour
  • 1 medium free-range egg
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10g semolina

Preheat the oven to 100°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into large equal-size chunks. Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked, drain and transfer them to the lined baking tray.

Place the tray into the preheated oven and dry the potatoes out for 10 minutes. This is to remove any excess water. Push the dry, warm potatoes through a ricer into a large mixing bowl, add the egg, pasta flour and seasoning and mix it all together until the gnocchi dough forms.

Wrap the dough ball in clingflim and refrigerate for two hours.

Once rested, place the dough on a lightly floured work surface, divide into four equal pieces and roll each piece into 2cm thick sausages. Use a sharp knife and cut 2cm wide gnocchi pillows. Sprinkle the semolina over a baking tray and place the gnocchi pillows on the tray.

In a large saucepan, bring the salted water to a rapid boil, add the gnocchi all at once, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and bring the water back to the boil.

Blanch the gnocchi for four minutes. Once they all float, they are ready to be transferred to ice water to chill them immediately.

Drain the gnocchi, toss them in a splash of olive oil and transfer them to a clean, dry tray. Keep refrigerated until needed.

Pan-fried John Dory

  • 4 skinless fillets of John Dory
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 20g cold unsalted butter
  • Coarse sea salt

While sauteing the gnocchi and samphire, heat some oil in a second large frying pan. Season the John Dory fillets with the salt and place the fillets presentation side down into the hot pan and add the knobs of cold butter. Pan-fry for one-and-a-half minutes before flipping the fish over, then continue cooking for a further one-and-a-half minutes. Drain the fish fillets on kitchen paper.

Sautéd Samphire and Capers

  • 100g Norfolk Marsh Samphire
  • 1tbs unsalted butter
  • Gnocchi, previously prepared
  • 2tsp small caper, drained
  • 200g picked cooked steamed cockle meat
  • 1tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ fresh lemon

Wash the samphire and remove any brown dried-out stalks.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a rapid boil and blanch the samphire for one minute, refresh and drain.

Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Once the butter starts to foam, add the gnocchi and sauté until golden brown all over - about four minutes. Add the drained samphire, cockles and capers, sauté for one minute and add seasoning, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the parsley. It's ready to serve.

To serve

Bring the sauce back to the boil. On warm serving plates, spoon the samphire mixture, place a piece of pan-fried John Dory on top followed by more cockles and samphire. Froth the sauce using a hand-held blender and spoon the foaming sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Serves 4

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9 Comments to “Pan-Fried John Dory with Cockles, Samphire and Cockle Velouté”

  1. [...] Pan-Fried John Dory with Cockles, Samphire and Cockle Velouté by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel; Chef, Phot… [...]

  2. [...] Pan-Fried John Dory with Cockles, Samphire and Cockle Velouté by … [...]

  3. [...] Pan-Fried John Dory with Cockles, Samphire and Cockle Velouté by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel; Chef, Phot… [...]

  4. Vivienne says:

    I’m a vegie and like the samphire and capers with the gnocchi, that will do for me a interesting and new combination to try thanx! Vxx

  5. Durant says:

    This dish looks superb. Like the way the creamy sauce is dressing the dish. Cockles is not my favourite but it dos sound appetizing this way.

  6. Elisa says:

    Saw this on today. Looks mighty delicious!
    I’ve never eaten cockles, but do remember playing with the empty shells on the beach in summer.
    Could mussels be used if I can’t find cockles?

  7. Madalene says:

    Hi Elisa,
    Mussels would be just as delicious.
    Happy Cooking

  8. Michelle says:

    Wow, Madalene, now this looks like my kind of food. I love the way you have presented this, it looks like the seaside too. I miss the sea so much, now that I am landlocked. I am off to the Billingsgate fish market (here in Edmonton, really!) to pick up some fish to try this out.

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