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Flexing my mussels

It must have been twenty years ago that I first tried mussels on holiday, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to shake off the sophistication I felt when eating moules mariniére for the first time.

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I’ve eaten better food, certainly; and there are several dishes I actually like more. But there’s something about a big bowl of mussels that calls out to the eight year old inside me, that eschews perfectly cooked steaks, or pretty, precise salads. That will turn away from more exciting seafood, or untried local delicacies: when moules mariniére are on a menu, I am powerless to choose anything else.

Having them on holiday that first time, turned me into some sort of mollusc-crazed child-monster. I had them for every meal, enormous mounds teetering in bowls. Full portions ordered for the little girl, whose eyes were only slightly wider than those of the disbelieving waiters taking the order. At that age, I must have had hollow legs, and would diligently work my way through the cauldron in front of me, never doubting for one moment that I would finish it and have room for ice cream (one scoop verdant pistachio, one scoop impossibly dark blackcurrant).

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Although we’re going away on holiday this year, we’re in London for at least another month. I use these mussels as a wish, a hope, or a straight out denial depending on how desperate we are for a bit of a break. A bowl of these will conjure up holiday-good-will over dinner, even when all we’re going to do afterwards is wash the dishes or paint the bookshelves. And if I can manage it, I follow it up with a chaser scoop of last week’s ice cream. For old times’ sake.

And it has the added bonus of being absurdly quick (and cheap!) to prepare. The first time I made it, I couldn’t quite believe that they would cook in such a short period; that you could go from knocking barnacles off live mussels to sitting down first mollusc in hand in under ten minutes. But you can. And you should. This weekend, preferably.

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Moules Mariniere

Makes: More than enough for two greedy people
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: 5 minutes on the hob

1 kilo of mussels
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic
15g butter
100ml white wine
150ml double cream
A fistful of parsley, finely sliced

1. Rinse the mussels under running water. Discard any that are open and don’t close when pressed between gentle fingertips. Pull out the beards (the coarse seaweedy bits), and knock off any barnacles with a knife. Rinse once more.

2. Mince a shallot and two cloves of garlic. Melt the butter over a low heat in the pan you will cook the muscles in, and add the shallot and garlic. Cook gently until soft, no more than five minutes. Tip the muscles in, chuck in the glass of wine, whack the heat up and pop a lid on the pot. Leave for four minutes.

3. Add the cream and parsley and cook for a further minute.

4. Ta Dah!

Icing on the Cake

We eat this with crusty white bread (the stuff in the supermarket’s just never crusty enough, and often I don’t have time to make my own if I’m looking for a fast supper, so I just sprinkle water across a supermarket loaf and pop it in a medium oven whilst the mussels are cooking), perfect for dunking into the leftover mariniére sauce — but also with spoons, because that sauce is the best bit, and deserves to be slurped up like boozy, creamy soup.

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