Simon Hopkinson urges us to to flex our mussels on two quick and easy alternatives to that perennial favourite of moules marinière.
To cook 1 kg of mussels
Although the mussels one may purchase are pretty clean and scrubbed already (as they are, mostly, these days), there remains the important ‘de-bearding’ to be done, by which I mean the hairy bit (it’s very obvious) attached to the mussel, which needs to be sharply yanked out with the fingers before cooking may begin.
Once this simple task is completed, tip the mussels into a capacious pot (which also has a lid), add a large glass of dry white wine and place over a lively flame. Clamp on the lid and leave for about three minutes, untouched.
Remove the lid, take the pot from the heat using both hands and vigorously shake the contents in such a manner that the mussels from the bottom of the pan now appear on top—and partly opened, too. Return to the heat, lid replaced, then cook for a further three minutes; during this time, prepare a large colander suspended over another large pot. Once the cooking is complete, immediately tip the mussels into the colander and leave their juices to drain beneath.
Once the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from their shells and place them in a bowl. Now, using a very fine sieve (this will collect any sandy particles), carefully decant the resultant juices over them and leave to cool.
The mussels are now ready to use in the following, very simple recipes. Any unused juices may happily be frozen in small pots.
Mussel, potato and cucumber salad, with a dill cream dressing (serves 4 as a substantial one-course luncheon, say)
4–6 medium waxy potatoes
1 large cucumber
Maldon sea salt and cayenne pepper
3–4tspn cider vinegar
200g tub crème fraîche
2–3tbspn of the mussel-cooking liquor
Scant tbspn of chopped dill
The cooked and shelled mussels (see quantity and cooking method above), very well drained of their juices
2–3tbspn best olive oil
Steam or boil the potatoes in their skins. Once cooked, peel while still warm and continue to hold them in a warm spot. Slice the cucumber not too thin and put in a bowl.
Lightly season with salt, cayenne pepper and the vinegar, then put to one side.
To make the dressing, decant the crème fraîche into a roomy bowl and slightly loosen it with the mussel liquor until just pourable.
Stir in the dill and, here, a touch of cayenne, too; it should not need any salt. Tip in the mussels and carefully stir together so as not to break their tender flesh; in fact, I usually use my hands for delicate mixing such as this.
To serve, slice the potatoes and arrange together with the cucumber in a suitable dish. Pile in the dressed mussels, dust with a little more cayenne, if liked, then trickle some olive oil over the potatoes and cucumber to finish the dish.
Mussels in garlic butter (serves 4)
100g unsalted butter
2 large cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with a little salt
2 heaped tbspn finely chopped parsley
3 sprigs tarragon, finely chopped
A trickle of Pernod (or similar)
3–4 shakes Tabasco sauce
The cooked and shelled mussels
4 large slices sourdough bread, toasted
Lemon quarters, to serve
Place the butter in a deep frying pan and melt over a low heat. Add the garlic, parsley, tarragon, Pernod and Tabasco, stir together well and allow to bubble quietly for a couple of minutes. Tip in the mussels, turn up the heat a little and warm through for a further minute or so. Take four hot plates, place a piece of toast upon each one, then spoon the hot mussels over them. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them and eat without delay!