Show Us Your Mussels!
On New Year’s Eve I hit the food market for something delicious to see in the New Year. The fish mongers were doing a roaring trade flogging kilos of prawns, crab, lobster and other fishy matter. Right at the unglamorous end of the counter were the mussels, looking very sad and neglected. I tend to get stuck in foodie ruts, at the moment I’m eating haloumi like it’s going out of foodie fashion (maybe it is?). As a result I seem to go through long periods of not eating other foods and I’m almost surprised to rediscover them.
Mussels are one of those foods that we should all be eating by the bucket load (food allergies/morals permitting); they’re cheap, local, quick, sustainable and bloody delicious. I left the masses to fight it out over the $80 a kilo lobster and made off with a kilo bag of local mussels for $6. I’ve had some dreadful run-ins with mussels, always at the hands of restaurants and usually because they aren’t fresh or cleaned properly. If they aren’t fresh don’t bother.
I have distinct recollections of family holidays in France, watching on in amazement as my Dad disposed of bucket loads of Moules Marinières – a creamy, buttery, herby, winey creation. I don’t know if watching him slurp away might have tarnished the dish somehow but I opted to whip up a variation on the classic, replacing the wine with cider, omitting the cream and adding some salty pancetta and a few other bits. It was a very good start to the culinary New Year.
2 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs of thyme
200g chopped pancetta
500ml of good cider
1 handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Let’s get the tedious bit out the way first, clean the mussels, removing their ugly little beards and plonk them in cold water. Take a bit of time, sip a bit of cider, it’s vaguely therapeutic. Finely chop the onion and garlic.
Gently heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and run your fingers along the thyme sprinkling all the delicate little leaves as you go, followed by the pancetta and make them sweat for two minutes.
Drop the cleaned mussels in, they make a wonderful clinking sound as they hit the pan and cook for two minutes. Turn up the heat, add the cider and immediately cover with the lid. Give the pan a damned good shake and cook for about five minutes or until the mussels start to open.
Finish with freshly chopped parsley and stir to coat all the mussels. Empty into a large bowl and curse any mussels that have not opened (and then throw them away). Be sure to serve with bread to mop up the juices and for extra flavor points smash up a garlic clove, some thyme and olive oil in a pestle and mortar and pour the herby juices over the bread. Do away with cutlery and use an empty mussels shell to pincer out his mates.
There you have it, the perfect lunch for a lazy afternoon in the garden. And after not having eating mussels for a long time, I think they might well be my new food rut. How do you like your mussels?