The reality of a backpacking sabbatical kicks in. At €15-25 a pot, mussels in Bruges are out of budget. Initial sulks aside, it's hard to give in when I know I can get a stellar 2kg bag for £6 from Steve Hall and Matt Baldwin at their Hand Picked Shellfish Company stall at the Queens Park Farmers Market in London.
So the next best thing: a little mussel memory, and a reminder to myself that life is good. The rest -- like this entry -- is gravy.
Soak mussels in a basin of cold water with salt and a little flour, and agitate to shake out any sand. Scrub any barnacles off the shells, and pull out their beards (turns out they're a biological part of the mussel rather than bits of whatever they've been clinging on to). Tap any open mussels on the kitchen counter, and throw away those that don't close. After cooking, throw away any that refuse to open.
A 2 kg bag will make 2 generous main portions, or 4-6 appetiser portions.
Garlic & White Wine
My basic recipe for steaming mussels - a building block for the other recipes below. If you like, you can also chop up a handful of flat-leaf parsley and mix it into the pot of mussels after they're cooked.
1 bulb garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tin plum tomatoes, preferably organic
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Fry the garlic and onion in a couple of glugs of olive oil in a heavy saucepan until soft. Add the tomatoes, including the juice, 1 cup of white wine, a handful of chopped fresh sweet basil and oregano (or 1/2 tablespoon each if dried). Add tomato paste if you like a thicker sauce. Simmer for ~10-15 minutes to reduce the sauce, then turn off the heat.
Add the layer of mussels, then turn the heat back on to medium-high. Follow cooking method in basic recipe.
1 ginger stem (about the size of 4 fingers), sliced thick
1 onion, sliced thick
3 large red chilies
3 small (birds eye) chilies
3-4 stalks lemongrass, depending on size
1 handful Asia basil leaves
2 key limes
Take the chilies and lemograss and give them each a few bashes with a pestle on a cutting board or mortar to release their juices. Combine with the garlic and onion, and a handful of Asian basil (they have jagged leaf edges unlike sweet basil, which have smooth leaf edges) and enough fish stock to cover in a large heavy saucepan. Add a splash of fish sauce and cook on medium heat for 20-30 minutes.
Add the layer of mussels, then turn the heat back on to medium-high. Follow cooking method in basic recipe. When cooked, cut the limes into halves and squeeze the juice into the saucepan. Garnish with chopped coriander / cilantro if desired.
Curry Butter Bake
Babs improvised on this one, combining chili powder, ground up coriander seeds and cardamom seeds, tumeric and black pepper with organic salted butter. (If you like, Recipeland has a more precise recipe for curry butter.)
Create 1 even layer of mussels on a baking try. Dot the mussels with curry butter, and cover with chopped coriander and slices of lime. Add a small splash of water (to help create steam) and cover the tray tightly with foil.
Grill or bake at 200 deg C in the oven for 7-10 minutes.
Let me know which of these you liked best, or if you have a mussel recipe for me to try when I'm back in the kitchen.
According to Gin Lady, the Hand picked Shellfish Company is at the following London farmers markets: Wimbledon and Ealing every Saturday, Queens Park every Sunday, and Swiss Cottage every other Wednesday.