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Around the world in 80 dishes No. 52: Rockefeller-style mussels

Ingredients to serve 2 as a first course

30g butter
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled and chopped
1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 tablespoons pastis (Pernod or Ricard)
200ml dry sherry
200g spinach (blanched in boiling, lightly salted water, rinsed under cold running water, drained and squeezed dry)
40g butter
10g parsley leaves
Leaves from 2 sprigs of tarragon
2-3 healthy slugs of Tabasco sauce


I had always wanted to try to do mussels Rockefeller, after the classic recipe for oysters, originally hailing from the legendary restaurant Antoine's, in New Orleans. The recipe was originally given to me by my friend Gay Bilson, the Australian cook, author and intellectual, who is rightly regarded as one of that country's living national treasures.

If you are familiar with how oysters Rockefeller are made – in essence, a pungent spinach purée spread on top of oysters, then baked – you will understand that to do this to dozens of small mussels would become an endless, tedious affair. So, still wishing to marry the lovely aniseed flavours of this spinach purée with mussels, I decided to turn it into a sauce – and jolly nice it is, too, if a touch messy to eat.

Note: as usual, do not use any mussels that refuse to close, when raw; also, any mussels remaining closed, once cooked, discard.

Melt the butter in a large pot (large enough to eventually accommodate the mussels) and in it quietly fry the shallots and celery until softened. Tip in the mussels, increase the heat until the sound of sizzling emanates from beneath, then add the pastis, which will seethe. Ignite it (stand back) and, when the flames have died, pour in the sherry.

When steam is rising from the base of the pot, give the mussels a shake, trying to bring the opened ones on the bottom up to the top. Place back on the heat, cover and continue cooking for a further minute or two. When all the shells are fully open, strain into a colander suspended over a bowl.

Shake the mussels about, so extracting all clinging juices, then put them to one side. Also, keep the pot to hand. Now, pour the juices into a liquidiser and add all the ingredients for the Rockefeller mixture. Whizz until smooth and return this (now) green sauce to the mussel-cooking pot.

Remove the empty half shells from the mussels and return the full halves to the sauce. Briefly reheat and serve with thick slices of either toasted baguette or sourdough.

Taken from 'The Good Cook' by Simon Hopkinson (BBC Books, £25).