This evening we enjoyed the benefits of our foraging expedition on Tresaith Beach from a couple of days ago…..
Winkles & Mussels from Tresaith, ready for cleaning & cooking.
….in the form of a delicious risotto. But it wasn’t as easy as it might seem!
After collecting the shellfish we took them home & ‘purged’ them over 24 hours in several changes of fresh, clean tap water. Then the shells were cleaned & any beards, seaweed or remaining grit, carefully removed. Having segregated the mussels the next task was to cook the winkles – complete with shells – in a court boillon, which I made by finely chopping a couple of carrots; some celery sticks; a large onion; & a medium leek which were then combined in a hearty saucepan with a couple of pungent, bruised garlic cloves; sprigs of parsley & thyme, a couple of bayleaves, a few grinds of lemon & black pepper & a handful of sea salt over which were poured a litre or so of water & a goodly slosh of white wine. After bringing this to the boil & then simmering it gently for around half-an-hour, I added the winkles & cooked them carefully for around 5-10 minutes.
After removing the shellfish from the cooking liquor & leaving them until cool enough to handle, the next task was to, err, literally winkle the winkles, out of their shells. Whilst this is described as a tedious occupation it can be surpisingly therapeutic if carried out in a relaxed atmosphere. I used a metal kitchen skewer rather than a pin to remove them from their shells; you soon get the knack of the twist & pull. After about 45 minutes the colander of shellfish was reduced to this:
Twist & shout!
….after which, came the bit I really do love to hate – removing the hard little brown ‘toenail’ on the end of each winkle’s foot (this acts as the ‘door’ to the shell when the creature is threateend by predators or whatever). This is quite a squidgy job & for some reason, really sets my teeth on edge.
A far more pleasant task, is making the risotto itself. The whole house was suffused with the delicious aroma of cooking, wafted with the tantalising scents of Italianate piscine cuisine. Following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s lead I gently sweated a chopped onion & a crushed garlic clove in a combination of hot butter & olive oil, to which I added the plump grains of risotto rice, stirring for a minute or so to coat the grains in the buttery onion-&-garlic mixture.
Meanwhile a pan of fish stock was simmering on the stove (including, to cook them, the cleaned mussels; a handful of prawns; some scallops; & a flaked fillet of white fish), with the stock alone gradually added, ladle by ladle, over the rice & allowed between ladlefuls to reduce a little at a time. About three quarters of the way through cooking I added some roughly chopped, skinned tomatoes which I’d reduced separately in a hot pan; along with chunks of courgette, aubergine, green pepper & a medley of fresh herbs.
These ingredients were then gently simmered together, until the rice was just nicely ‘al dente’. A few minutes before the dish was ready I dropped in the cooked winkles, mussels & other fishy delights to warm everything through; seasoned the dish well with black pepper; put a few dabs of butter on the rice & covered the pan for a few moments whilst pouring a glass of wine & allowing the butter to melted & drizzle into the dish. After a final, gentle stir I garnished each plateful of the lovely, creamy-textured mixture with a sprig of aromatic fresh basil.
Tony spooned some of the steaming risotto into his mouth, pausing appreciatively as he savoured the simple, honest flavour of the dish. “Delicious”, he smiled. “And definitely worth all the effort. So when are we off on another beach forage?”
To me, scrambling over rocks during a ‘low’ season’s sunny afternoon on one of Wales’ most tranquil, beautiful beaches, whilst an exertion certainly wasn’t an effort; Tony relaxing with a cuppa as I struggled with the shellfish preparation & cooking, was. But as the aromatic, hearty risotto brought absolute satisfaction to my tired & hungry soul, I was admittedly already dreaming of the sound of the sea, the softness of the sand, sunlight dancing on the laughing waves & of the taste of more plump little fresh fruits de mer….