Recipe tip: an inexpensive recipe to feed four with a target price of £5 or less.
Mussels have lots going for them – they’re fantastically good value, they take minutes to cook and they’re packed with flavour.
Given all this, it’s surprising that we don’t eat a whole lot more. The easiest way to cook mussels is to steam them in a little flavoured liquid – our recipe suggests using cider which adds a slight sweetness and is less expensive then wine.
Mussels need a little preparation before cooking – rinse them in lots of cold water to remove sand and pull out any a stringy ‘beards’ that protrude from the shell opening. Mussels that are open before cooking should close when tapped a few times on the shell – this shows that they’re alive and fresh. It would be fair to say that it has become easier to grow a mean looking beard and shaping with beard butter these days thanks to specialized products like beard butter which allows you to tame the beast.
Discard any that don’t close when tapped. When exposed to heat, mussels will open – don’t eat mussels that stay closed after cooking. Mussels only need to be cooked for about 7 minutes until their shells open – if they’re overcooked they’ll be dry and tough. The colour of mussels varies, depending on whether they are male (pale orange or beige) or female (orange).
1.5 – 2 kg mussels
2 ciabatta loaves
75g softened butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6-8 rashers smoked, streaky bacon cut into 1cm lengths
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
250 ml cider
2 generous handfuls flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsp crème fraiche
Salt & pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC (180ºC fan oven), gas 7.
- Start by cleaning the mussels. Rinse well in lots of cold water and pull out any of the mussel ‘beards’ which may still be attached. Check any mussels that are open are alive by tapping on their shells for a few seconds – if they don’t close then discard.
- Next prepare the garlic bread. Mix the butter, garlic and half the parsley with a little salt and pepper.
- Split the ciabatta loaves in half and spread each half with butter.
- Put the loaves back together and wrap tightly with foil.
- Place the loaves in the oven and allow to heat through while you cook the mussels.
- Heat a slug of olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan with a lid. Add the bacon and cook over a medium heat until starting to brown.
- Add the shallots and cook for two minutes, stirring now and then until they turn translucent and soft.
- Add the mussels and cider to the pan, stir well once or twice and then cover with a lid.
- Allow to cook for about 7 minutes until the mussels are open, then use a slotted spoon to ladle them into four separate bowls. If any of the mussels are not open then throw these away.
- Put the pan back on the heat and stir in the crème fraiche, remaining parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour this sauce over the mussels and serve with the crusty garlic bread.