6/08/2012 03:53:00 PM

Mussels with cream and cider

I love seafood, but I don't eat it that often.  This is mainly because I'm the only person who eats seafood in my house, and these days I usually can't be bothered cooking for one.  I also like to buy and cook seafood on the same day, and only buy seafood at the market, rather than at the supermarket.  And because I only venture to a market if I'm shopping for a particular purpose - e.g. a dinner party - by the time I'm at the market, I've already decided what dish I'm cooking, and there's no room for seafood.  So, the seafood thing just never happens.

However, the other day, I really, really felt like mussels.  It was about 6pm on a Saturday, and all the markets and fishmongers in my area would have been closed, so I went to my local supermarket, thinking that if they didn't have mussels, I could at least buy a salmon fillet or some (urgh) marinara mix and still satisfy my seafood craving.  When I got there, though, I saw that they sold mussels in one-kilo bags!  I must admit I wasn't too optimistic at the thought of supermarket mussels, but they were actually sold live, and farmed locally, so I was happy to give them a go. (I'm thinking St Leonard's counts as local?)  And, pragmatically, at only $8 a kilo, it wasn't going to be a massive financial loss if they weren't the greatest.

Cleaned mussels, ready for cooking

Despite what Nigella says in some recipes, a kilo of mussels is way too much for one person, so I cooked half of them on the Saturday night, kept the rest in the fridge (in a tightly sealed container) and cooked them the next day.  I was worried I might lose some, but they were all fine, all opening obediently after a few minutes of cooking.  Phew!  On the first night I made the mussels in cream and cider that you see at the top of this post, and on the second night I cooked them with punchy South-East Asian flavours: garlic, chilli, lemongrass, ginger, coriander and coconut milk.  Both very different, both incredibly delicious.

South-east Asian flavoured mussels

Funnily enough, there are heaps of mussel, clam and seafood recipes in the One and Two chapter of How to Eat, which obviously means I've cooked them all before - I really should revisit that chapter when I feel like eating seafood!  I think mussels and clams are best eaten alone - there is no elegant way to suck up all those juices, and if you like garlic as much as I do, well, no-one will want to be around you after you've eaten them.

Despite there being zillions of different mussel recipes in all my cookbooks, there really is only one method for steamed mussels. (And steamed clams, incidentally).  The main variations come with what flavourings you want to add.  I'll share some suggestions for flavours below, but for now let me show you the easy-peasy method.

You'll need a large lidded cooking vessel - I've been using a Luke Nguyen Non-Stick Wok that was sent to me courtesy of Kitchenware Direct, but any big pot with a tight-fitting lid will do.  After struggling for years to season a traditional cast-iron wok, I had to face facts - I'm not the char kway teow man and I will never, ever stir-fry frequently enough to season a traditional wok.  A large non-stick wok is much more suited to my infrequent wok needs.  I've been really happy with it so far - despite the non-stick coating, it gets up to a good high heat.  I've used the wok for stir-frying, steaming (it comes with a steaming insert) and, of course, mussels.  So, back to the mussels:

Heat up some oil and aromatics in your pot of choice...

...add some steaming liquid (usually wine or some other sort of alcohol) and turn the heat up to high...

...and once it's steaming, chuck in the clean mussels!

Shake them around and whack on the lid.  After about two minutes, they should mostly be cooked, so remove all the open ones to a waiting serving bowl.  Give any remaining closed ones a couple more minutes to cook through, but if any are left that really don't open, they're bad and you'll need to chuck them.

Finally, turn the heat off and if you're adding something creamy, now is the time to do it.  This gives gives a lovely roundness to the sauce, but is entirely optional. Cream, butter, crème fraîche, coconut milk are all good, depending on your other ingredients.  However, if you prefer a clearer, more intensely flavoured seafoody sauce, then feel free to leave it out!

Mussels in cider, cider, salad, bread rolls

At the bottom of this post, I've included my scaled-down, creamed-up version of Nigella's mussels in cider recipe, (from that charming book, Kitchen), dividing the ingredients list into "aromatics", "steaming liquid" and "to finish", so that you (and more importantly, I), can whip up a single bowl of mussels for dinner whenever you feel like it, with whatever flavours you desire.  (N.B. vary the amounts of aromatics and steaming liquid depending on how strongly flavoured they are, how soupy you like your finished product to be, and how you intend to serve it).  You could easily use this method with clams, and I imagine razor clams would work well too.  This method would also be a fabulous way to cook that 1990's suburban restaurant Melbourne staple, garlic prawns.

Some suggestions:

The classic moules marinières contains garlic, parsley and shallots, and has white wine as its steaming liquid of choice.  A bit of butter whisked into the cooking liquid at the end completes the dish.  Serve with fries or crusty bread.  Or, forget the fries and bread, and toss cooked spaghetti through the mussels for a fabulous spaghetti con le cozze.  Adding pasta will make the mussels go further too, so 500g of mussels and 200g pasta (uncooked weight) will generously feed two.  Don't forget dried chilli flakes at the end!

You could recreate my Thai-style mussels with garlic/ginger/lemongrass/coriander/chilli as your aromatics, mirin and water as your steaming liquid, and coconut milk to finish it off.  (The mirin and coconut milk makes it quite sweet, so add lots of lime juice and chilli to balance it out!)  Rice or noodles make a fab accompaniment.

Flavouring ingredients for Thai-style mussels

Or you could make Nigella's mouclade (Nigella Express) by cooking your mussels in garlic and onion, steaming in white wine, and finishing off with some cream and curry powder.  (I've never tried it but it seems fabulously Euro-retro).

Despite all those suggestions, I think these plain old mussels in cider are a fab place to get started, so here you go. Enjoy!

Mussels in Cider
Based on Nigella's Mussels in Cider recipe (Kitchen)

500g mussels

1 tbsp olive oil
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Small handful chopped flat-leaf parsley

Steaming Liquid
125ml dry cider

To Finish
1 tbsp double cream
A little extra parsley, for garnish

Soak the mussels in a sink full of cold water.  Snip or pull off any beards.  Check through the mussels and throw out any that are cracked, or any that stay open when you tap them firmly with your knuckles.
Heat the oil in a large wok (or any large pot that has a tight-fitting lid), over a medium heat. Add the spring onions, garlic and parsley, stirring and cooking for a few minutes until beginning to soften.
Pour in the cider, and turn the heat up to high. Once it starts steaming, add the mussels, give them a stir to coat them with the aromatics and clamp on the lid.  Allow to cook for two minutes or so, shaking the pan around occasionally.
Take off the lid, and remove any mussels that have opened to a waiting serving bowl.  If there are any mussels that are still closed, place the lid back on and allow to cook for a further minute or so, before placing them in the serving bowl.  (If any mussels refuse to open, these are bad and should be thrown out.)
Turn the heat down, and stir the cream into the pan juices.  Pour the liquid over the waiting mussels, sprinkle some chopped parsley over and dig in!  Serve with crusty bread rolls and a sharply-dressed green salad.

Serves 1 lucky individual.

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  1. I miss being able to eat mussels. Ever since I had acne, mussels are a big no no!

  2. Heh, I'm with Nigella on this one - 1kg of mussels is about right in our house! And I can testify that the mouclade recipe is scrumptious.

  3. These look really good and I'm not even a mussels fan! And yes, Nigella always over estimates the consumption capabilities of her followers :P

  4. Oh Sarah, I would, and will, in a magical future, always eat mussels with you. My family has never loved them like I do either, and it's very rare to find them served in Canberra (apart, of course, from the Belgian Beer Cafe place). Yours look glorious indeed.

  5. Oh I know how you feel. Whilst Hamish will eat some seafood, he prefers chicken any day. I'm really craving a big bowl of mussels… perhaps he can have leftovers that night ;)

  6. Ohhhh Sarah this recipe is so awesome beyond words... Simple French comfort food. Best thing about it is that your recipe has got so much awesome sauce and can be made in a jiffy... Thanks for this!!

  7. Michelle - Oh you poor thing! I do hope you can have mussels occasionally as a treat!

    Boffcat - I do tend to inhale bread when I eat mussels, so perhaps that dents my appetite a little ;)

    I-Hua - Yeah, I never get used to her huge portions, hehe.

    Hannah - Thank-you so much! It had been ages since I made them, and I am pleased they turned out well!

    Michele - Go on, treat yourself!

    Winston - Thank-you! Do let me know if you make it; I hope they turn out well for you too!

    xox Sarah



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.