Cockle picking (or free food!)

Cockle picking (or free food!)

With everyone trying to save a few euro on their shopping we've decided to go one better and show you where to get food for free! We're a bit spoiled as we live near the sea which is where we start this week but there's always something you can munch for nothing.

This week we're heading for the seashore and we're going cockle picking. I'm a big fan of shellfish and a huge fan of eating something I didn't pay for. Personally I find cockles tastier than the more popular mussel but it's more work for what you get. It's more about the day out though and my children like it (For about 20 mins) so it's also about the journey. O.K. so here's the plan:

Cockles are found in estuaries and beaches throughout Ireland, you're looking for a sheltered beach with a good amount of middle and lower shore. i.e. a wide stretch of sand when the tide goes out rather than a short deep beach. I would advise you check the local the water quality, the Marine Institute is a helpful place to start.

Check your tides first ( Obviously you go at low tide but you need to make sure you don't walk out too far and get cut off when the tide comes back in. Please be careful and bring your phone just in case. You'll also need a stiff garden rake or hoe to scrape into the sand.

What am I looking for? You know when you see those little piles of sand that look like worms? Root around under there and you'll find cockles. A quick walk over the sands picking out the areas where the water takes longer to drain off is a good indication of where your dinner might be. Scan the surface sand and you'll see open cockle shells on the surface where birds have left them, plus living cockles half buried and numerous depressions identifying where live cockles lay fully buried.

Scrape around with a rake about an inch or so below the surface and you'll hear a satisfying 'clink' when you strike gold. The smaller ones have a sweeter flavour but I feel a bit mean collecting them and tend to go for the biggest I can find. When you've got enough give them a good rinse in sea water to clean off any mud or sand. That's about it. Oh, by the way, depending on the colour of the sand where you pick them the cockles can look a dark grey, more like the ones here in the bucket. You can also just see the little piles of wormy sand you're looking for in the photo. The dog is optional.

When you get home give them a rinse in the sink and scrub off any remaining bits of sand. I find I can never get rid of it all and always have a small sandy deposit in the bottom of the bowl. Any shells which aren't tightly closed need to be thrown away as do any broken ones. Once you've done that you're ready to get cooking. Now, flip over to the recipe section.