Cockle Rice with Petinga/Arroz de Berbigão com Petinga
This dish combines two key flavours of Portuguese cooking: rice cooked in a light shellfish stock and crispy fried fish. This is a slight variation on the traditional seafood “running” rice using risotto to produce a rich and creamy finish. I didn’t call the dish itself “cockle risotto” as this does not follow the Italian technique for cooking risotto rice. The fried fish used here are small sardines (fishing these is forbidden in most countries) but any kind of small fry should work. The rice can also be served on its own as a main dish.
For the rice:
1 finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic 500gr fresh cockles (i.e. alive)
2 bay leaves
2 cups of risotto rice large bunch of coriander finely chopped
1 pinch of saffron olive oil lemon juice
For the petinga:
250 gr of petinga (small sardines or other small fish), gutted, cleaned and salted
flour and white pepper
vegetable oil for frying
1. Wash the cockles thoroughly in cold water by rubbing the shells against each other and changing the water regularly. This is to remove dirt and sand from the outside of the shells.
2. Heat 4 tbsps of olive oil in a large pot and add the cockles keeping the heat high. Close the lid, shake occasionally and wait for them to open up. This will take 5 – 10 minutes (do not overcook). Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice as the cockles start opening.
3. In another large pot heat up 4 tbsps of olive oil and add the finely chopped onion and the bay leaves. Cook at medium heat until translucent then add the garlic and 1/2 cup of finely chopped coriander and the saffron.
4. In the meantime remove the cockles form the pot and strain the cooking liquid. Make sure you discard any sand that might accumulate at the bottom of the pot. Remove the meat out of most of the cockle shells, (leave some unshelled) and keep.
5. Add the cockle cooking liquid to the onion together with 3 cups of water plus a little salt (the cockles are already salty so best to season towards the end).
6. Once boiling add the rice and cook at medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary.
7. Heat of the vegetable oil in a large frying pan, dip the petinga or other fish in a mix of flour and white pepper and fry in hot oil until crispy. Do this in batches so not to overcrowd the pan. Remove to absorbent paper and sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juic.
8. When the rice is cooked (roughly 15 minutes) add both shelled and unshelled cockles, stir, taste and season with salt and pepper. Finely add the chopped coriander, stir once again and serve immediately. The rice should be moist but not runny, with a creamy texture while keeping the individual grains intact.
9. Serve either in the pot with the petinga on a separate serving dish or plate with a mount of rice and the petinga on top.