Tellines (pronounced tellEEne)
There was a little commotion yesterday morning at Saint Remy de Provence market. Gilles, the oyster and mussel vendor, placed a large tub of tellines at the front of his stall. First to notice, with coffees in hand at 8 am, were the other foraines (market workers). Some even stopped in the middle of the bise* greetings to make their way over to Gilles’ stall. Threats were made to keep some for them. The lip-smacking in anticipation for dinner started particularly early.
What are Tellines?
Tellines are triangular shaped colourful clams, also called wedge clams in English. They’re raked up from the first 10cm layer of sand under a few feet of water. These small clams are expensive due to the labour intensive process in which they are gathered. In recent years, larger boats have abused the shores by trawling for them. Thankfully, people are now appreciating the labour the small, local fisherman go through to obtain these tasty delights.
Check out this video, from France’s Arte TV about the Camargue fishermen that collect the telline here in Provence. I have a whole new appreciation for them!
Where to Find Tellines?
Usually, they are found at seaside restaurants along the Mediterranean. That is if you don’t go digging for them yourself. Tellines are rarely seen other than in restaurants because restaurants can afford to pay more for them. At this time of year, many oceanside restaurants are closed. Therefore, fishermen are approaching market vendors. Tellines are mostly a summer product, but you may be lucky to find some at this time of year. I know that the only place I see them regularly is Arles Saturday market in the fish section.
Gilles scooped a rusty tin can full of these for me and promptly gave me his recipe, as did everyone else. Some people eat them with spaghetti, like the Italian classic spaghetti alle vongole. Some people add white wine and flour to make a sauce, some add creme fraiche. However, this is a dish always calls for French persillade. Simple Persillade is a sauce that is quickly pan fried. It consists of only parsley, garlic and butter. All in generous amounts. In France, persillade is used for frog’s legs or snails. It renders everything delicious.
Not to say that tellines aren’t delicious on their own.
A Provencale Tradition
My neighbour is a sweet lady who complains if we don’t have coffee together more than three times a week. She told me that thirty years ago, a man used to come around every Tuesday evening in his 2CV to sell tellines to all the housewives. The whole street dined on Tellines every Tuesday night! Can you imagine, forgive my nostalgia, what a fantastic scene that would be?
Food trucks are certainly not a new thing!
How to Prepare Tellines
This is incredibly easy. Fresh and delicious. Don’t be tempted to add anything else.
Normally, you have to take the sand out of them by soaking them. Ask if they are desablé or not.
Prepare your persillade in advance.
Finely chop at least 2 cloves of garlic with a bunch of parsley.
Put a large shallow pan on high heat. Place the tellines in the pan in a single layer. They can be snug but not layers upon layers. You don’t need to add any liquid at this stage. The “jus de mer” or saltwater in the shells will suffice.
Watch as they spring open to reveal their violet colours. Oh! The joy!
After a few minutes, when they’re almost all open, throw in the persillade with as much butter as you dare (at least 2 large knobs).
Stir and leave for another minute.
Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Serve with crisp white wine and fresh bread.
*La bise is the three kiss greeting here in Provence. Depending on where you are in France, it can also be 2 kisses. And yes, men who know each other well do “la bise” in France. My British man has even gotten used to it…if you can believe that!
Check out Paul Taylor’s comic video on La Bise. As a matter of fact, check out all his videos, they’re hilarious!