Molly Malone was a beautiful girl who sold cockles and mussels and died tragically of a fever while still young, or so the song goes. Molly may not have been a real girl, but since at least the 17th century, there have been fishmongers on the streets of Dublin who sell ‘Cockles and Mussels, alive, alive, oh!’
Cockles, with their distinctive flavour and lovely curved shell, are traditionally eaten in Ireland with Oatcakes. If you can only find mussels, this chowder will be just as good.
Serve either as a substantial starter or with chunks of crusty bread as a meal in its own right.
Heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and sauté for about 1 minute, until crisp and golden. Add the butter to the pan and melt. Then add the leek, carrot and potato. Reduce the heat to low and sauté gently for 4–5 minutes, until soft but not browned.
Meanwhile, prepare the cockles and mussels. Scrub the shells clean and discard any that remain open when you tap them against a hard surface. Remove the beard – the little fibrous tuft – from each mussel. Bring the wine to a boil in a large saucepan and add the cockles and mussels. Cover with a tight-fi tting lid and cook for 3–4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the shells have opened.
Remove from the heat, drain the shellfi sh in a colander, reserving the cooking juices, and discard any shells that remain closed. Return the shellfi sh to the empty pan to keep warm. Place a fine sieve over a measuring jug and strain the cooking liquid. You should have at least 600ml (1 pint); if not, add water to make up that quantity.
Add the pan juices and the milk to the bacon and vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6–8 minutes, until the potato is tender. Add the cream and simmer for another 2–3 minutes, until the soup is reduced and thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, remove half of the cockles and mussels from their shells and add them with the remaining cockles and mussels still in their shells to the chowder. Stir in the parsley and serve at once.