‘This is a plate of food worthy of a fine dinner-make it for foodie friends who don’t mind getting messy, and serve it either as a main course or as a starter. It would be equally magnificent tossed in linguine or served with buttered, boiled potatoes, and is so packed full of goodness that you can make utter pigs of yourselves under the pretext of healthy eating’ — Thomasina Miers
Extract from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘The Good Cook’, published by BBC Books
Ingredients (Serves 2, as a first course)
For the mussels
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled and chopped
1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 tbsp pastis (Pernod or Ricard)
200ml dry sherry
For the Rockefeller mixture
200g spinach (blanched in boiling, lightly salted water, rinsed under cold water, drained and squeezed dry)
10g parsley leaves
Leaves from 2 sprigs of tarragon
2-3 healthy slugs of Tabasco sauce
I had always wanted to try to do mussels Rockefeller in the same way as one would do the same for the classic recipe for oysters, originally hailing from the legendary restaurant Antoine’s, in New Orleans. The original recipe from there is, apparently, a closely guarded secret but, along the way, it emerged from somewhere because I managed to include a version in my book Gammon and Spinach. The recipe was originally given to me by my friend Gay Bilson, the Australian cook, author and intellectual, who is now rightly regarded as one of that country’s living national treasures.
If you are familiar with how oysters Rockefeller are made-in essence, a pungent spinach purée spread on top of oysters, then baked-you will understand that to do this to dozens of small mussels would become an endless, tedious affair; I guess that if one could obtain some of those large Spanish mussels, the idea might just work, but I haven’t seen these in the UK for years. So, still wishing to marry the lovely aniseed flavours of this spinach purée with mussels, I decided to turn it into a sauce-and jolly nice it is too, if a touch messy to eat; have fingerbowls to hand, for the fussy. As usual, do not use any mussels that refuse to close when raw; also, any mussels remaining closed once cooked should be discarded.
Melt the butter in a large pot (large enough to eventually accommodate the mussels) and in it quietly fry the shallots and celery until softened. Tip in the mussels, increase the heat until the sound of sizzling emanates from beneath, and then add the pastis, which will seethe. Ignite it (stand back) and, when the flames have died, pour in the sherry. When steam is rising from the base of the pot, give the mussels a shake, trying to bring the opened ones on the bottom up to the top.
Place back on the heat, put on a lid and continue cooking for a further minute or two. When it seems that all the shells are fully open, immediately strain into a colander suspended over a bowl. Shake the mussels about a bit, so extracting all clinging juices, then put them to one side. Also, keep the pot to hand.
Now pour the juices into a liquidizer (or processor) and add all the ingredients for the Rockefeller mixture. Whizz until smooth and return this (now) green sauce to the mussel-cooking pot. Remove the empty half shells from the mussels and return the full halves to the green sauce. Briefly reheat and serve with thick slices of either toasted baguette or sourdough.