Clam, leek and pearl barley risotto

  • Prep time 10 mins
  • Cook time 1 hrs 30 mins
  • Serves 4
clam leek and pearl barley risotto


For the stock – makes 1.5 litres of fish stock

  • 300g fish bones
  • 1 carrot, grated or chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ leek (just tops, sliced)
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • Parsley stalks
  • A sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)

For the risotto

  • 25g butter
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 75g celery, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 250g pearl barley (or short grain brown rice)
  • 100ml white wine
  • 400g clams or cockles, washed
  • Few sprigs parsley, thin stalks and leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ lemon

Recipe developed by eco-chef Tom Hunt

Clams impart a delicate sweetness to this delicious, rich and healthy risotto. It’s very easy to cook, so take the time to make a stock to create a rounded and full flavour. Pearl barley makes an interesting alternative to rice; it has a bouncy bite and nuttiness that is very satisfying.

Bivalves such as cockles, clams, mussels, oysters and scallops make a good sustainable choice as they filter the water they are in and increase the biodiversity of the local habitat. Most oysters sold today are farmed, as are mussels: cultured on ropes, they can be superb, with really clean bright shells.

Clams, cockles, whelks and other lesser-eaten bivalves can be hard to buy in supermarkets, but our trusty fishmongers will often stock them, or order them in especially if you ask nicely. Otherwise, you can order them online.

Shellfish are best cooked fast, most within 2-3 minutes, making a delicious fast food or snack, although whelks need a bit longer. Whenever cooking bivalves in their shells, check that they all open when cooked: if any don’t, discard them. When there is a choice between hand-gathered or dredged shellfish, choose hand gathered: this means the quality and size can be selected by the picker or diver. They are more expensive, which is why I choose to buy the cheaper species such as cockles, clams and whelks.


Fish stock

  1. Place the vegetables, herbs and fennel in a pan of 1.6 litres of water and bring to the boil.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Leave to rest for 30 minutes then strain through a sieve.


  1. Gently fry the leek and celery for 5 minutes in the butter.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn.
  3. Add the pearl barley (or rice if using) and turn to coat the grains in the oil.
  4. Cover the pearl barley (or rice if using) in the fish stock and bring to a simmer – Keep stirring until the stock is absorbed.
  5. Cover again and repeat.
  6. After about 20 minutes, the pearl barley or rice should be cooked, bouncy to the bite but enjoyable to eat.
  7. Remove from the heat, season to taste and place to one side while you cook the clams.

To cook the clams

  1. Heat 100ml of white wine to boiling point in a lidded saucepan.
  2. Add the clams and place a lid on top, giving them a shake.
  3. After just 1-2 minutes, when they open, remove from the heat and add a squeeze of lemon and the chopped parsley.
  4. Turn the clams through the risotto and serve immediately.

Storage: The sturdy pearl barley reheats well. Keep in the fridge for three to four days in a sealed container. Reheat with a little extra water to rehydrate.