Mussel Bound: The perfect easy supper

Simply steamed, or given a kick with herbs and spices, mussels are perfect for easy suppers, says Mark Hix.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Mussels are such a simple meal to prepare at home and there are so many things you can do with them apart from the classic moules marinière, which is itself a great starting point for other similar-style dishes using local spices and seasonings from around the world.

A few weeks back I visited Myles Blood Smyth down at the Exmouth Mussels (exmouthmussels.com) on the mouth of the river Exe. Myles has fishing rights and his pick of all the mussels, cockles and oysters on the estuary which is a national nature reserve. All the mussels are harvested from the estuary bed on a specially designed barge which uses self-fluidising jets of water so that no damage is done to any other sea or plant life. They are then graded on board and taken back to the dock for cleaning and purification.

There are many great sources of quality mussels around the country, however, and a good fishmonger should be able to tell you the source of the mussels.

Mussels are great fun for kids, too, either plainly steamed or spiced up; you can just place a big bowl in the middle of the table with some chips and let them get on with it.

Spaghetti with mussels, chilli and garlic

Serves 4 as a starter or light main course

This is rather like a spaghetti alla vongole but made with mussels. However, it's a cheaper option as clams have thick, heavy shells and by the time you have steamed and removed them from the shells, they can work out pretty expensive.

Place your mussels in a bowl of cold water before cooking and discard any open ones or any that float to the top.

4 servings of spaghetti

1kg of live mussels, bearded and washed

1 glass of white wine

2-3 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped

6tbsp olive oil

6 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped, or 2tsp dried chilli flakes

200ml fish stock

150g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the mussels in a large saucepan with the white wine, cover with a lid and cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have all just opened, then drain in a colander over a bowl to reserve the cooking liquid. Strain the cooking liquor into a pan with the fish stock and simmer on a medium heat until it has reduced by two thirds of its volume. Remove about 75 per cent of the mussels from the shells and put to one side, along with the ones left in their shells.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water, then strain in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the shallots, garlic and chilli briefly for a minute on a low heat, then add the reduced wine and fish stock. Whisk the butter in on a low heat until it has emulsified; then season and add the parsley.

To serve, toss the spaghetti, mussels and sauce together in a pan over a medium heat and add a little of the cooking water if the pasta looks a bit dry, then serve.

Thai mussels

Serves 4

Thai spices and herbs go really well with mussels and this recipe makes a really refreshing and light starter either served individually or served in a large bowl in the middle of the table for people to help themselves to. Thai herbs and spices are fairly easy to get hold of these days and some supermarkets even sell packets of galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves all ready to go.

2kg live mussels, bearded and washed

2tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 sticks of lemon grass, trimmed and finely chopped

40g galangal or root ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

2 medium chillies, trimmed and sliced

4-6 lime leaves

3-4tbsp fish sauce

500ml fish stock

tbsp cornflour

250ml of coconut milk

A handful of coriander leaves

A handful of Thai basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion, garlic, lemon grass, galangal and chilli for 2-3 minutes on a low heat. Add the lime leaves, fish sauce and fish stock and simmer gently for 5 minutes, then dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir in and simmer for another 5 minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, season, add the mussels, cover and cook on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often until the mussels have all opened, then stir in the coriander and basil leaves and serve immediately.

Mussel broth with potatoes and saffron

Serves 4

Mussels make a great-flavoured base for a soup, and can be prepared the day before if necessary. You can serve it like a broth with all of the mussels out of the shell, or leave a few in. Don't be tempted to buy cheap saffron, especially that stuff they try to flog you at markets abroad. Good-quality saffron is expensive, but you just need a small pinch and it's well worth paying the extra.

1kg live mussels, bearded and washed

1 glass of white wine

1.5ltr fish stock

60g butter

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1tbsp flour

1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into rough 1cm dice

A good pinch of saffron

150ml double cream

1tbsp fennel tops or dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the mussels in a large saucepan with the white wine and cook on a high heat, for 3-4 minutes or until all of the mussels are just open. Drain in a colander over a bowl and save the cooking liquor. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes on a low heat, stirring every so often. Next add the flour then gradually stir or whisk in the reserved cooking liquor and fish stock. Bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 15 minutes then add the potatoes and continue simmering for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile remove the mussels from their shells. Add the cream, saffron and fennel tops and continue simmering for another 5 minutes, re-season if necessary, add the mussels, simmer for another couple of minutes and serve.

Mussel and bacon salad

Serves 4

This is simple salad to knock up; and the bigger the mussels the better. You can use a single crisp-leaf salad such as cos hearts or little gems. Or add some tasty small leaves and herbs too.

1kg large mussels

A glass of white wine

200g smoked streaky bacon or pancetta, cut into 1cm dice

A little vegetable or corn oil for frying

4 slices of white bread, cut into 1cm cubes

60g butter

4 heads of little gems

A handful of small salad leaves and herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

The wine from cooking the mussels

2tsp Dijon mustard

tbsp white wine or cider vinegar

2tbsp olive oil

2tbsp vegetable oil

1tbsp water

Put the mussels in a large saucepan with the wine and cook on a high heat, stirring every so often, for 3-4 minutes or until all of the mussels are just open. Drain, saving the cooking liquor. Remove the mussels from the shells and put the meat to one side. Simmer the liquor until it reduces to about half a tablespoon and put in a bowl with the mustard, vinegar, oils and water. Season and whisk together to emulsify.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring as it's cooking until crisp, then remove with a slotted spoon on to a plate. Add the butter to the same pan and cook the bread for a few minutes, turning with a spoon until crisp, then put on kitchen paper.

To serve, toss the little gem leaves in the dressing with half of the mussels and half of the bacon, season and arrange in individual or one large bowl. Scatter the smaller leaves, the rest of the bacon and mussels and croutons on top.

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