Mussels from Brussels
As the author of a food blog, who loves eating, thinks about food far too much every day and would happily spend all their spare time cooking I realise some may fit me into that nebulous group of people described as “foodies”. But there’s a problem with this definition. In my mind, foodies will eat anything and everything, nothing is off-limits, and they are as happy, if not happier, eating jellyfish as cod, bone marrow as fillet steak and sheep’s eyeballs as lamb chops. I, however, am not, and this irks me. Since being diagnosed as coeliac I have felt that I don’t have the right to be a picky eater. Apart from anything else picky eaters annoy me, and it seems silly that with so many foods out of bounds to me anyway due to the dreaded gluten factor, that I would willingly exclude any more because I don’t like them. And so I make a point of trying everything. But try as I might there are some foods I just can’t love. Celery. Tripe. Seafood. Now by seafood I mean a very particular subgroup of seafood. Fish is great. Lobster, divine. Crab, prawns all delicious. But certain foods make me feel somewhat squeamish. Octopus. Squid. Oysters. And mussels.
Now I’ve only ever had mussels once. A long time ago. And feeling that my fear of them was somewhat irrational I thought it really was about time to make them properly, and form a careful, considered opinion of them. Which is: I still don’t like them, much. It wasn’t to do with the taste. They tasted, mainly, of the sea. Not in a fishy way, but in a fresh, slightly salty, slightly sweet way. Surprisingly it wasn’t the texture either. After poking at one and discovering it had all sorts of different round bits and blobby bits I was expecting it to pop repulsively in my mouth on biting into it, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it was neither poppy, nor chewy, but nicely meaty. In fact, after a couple of chews the texture was pretty much indistinguishable from the bacon bits in the sauce. Nor was I put off by the fact that the mussels had apparently been alive in my fridge since purchasing them at the fishmongers in the morning, and were killed by my fair hand on being thrown into a pot of boiling cider. This didn’t seem to register on my conscience as they meandered down my gullet. No, none of this bothered me, which leads me to the most disturbing conclusion of all. I didn’t like them because I don’t like the thought of them, the idea of eating a whole mollusc. In short, I’m squeamish. While I’m open to new foods, new tastes and textures, there’s still a very Western, sanitised world view that has been bred into me that means, not matter how tasty duck-blood soup may be, I suspect it will leave me cold. Guess I won’t be joining the ranks of the foodies any time soon.
Mussels with cider and bacon
Tweaked from River Cottage Every Day
Despite the two paragraphs of caveats above, this is a lovely recipe. I suspect if you like mussels this is great, there’s not too many other flavours going on to interfere, and just enough sauce to make an awful mess, which is always fun. If you don’t like mussels (or think you don’t) it’s a good recipe to start with; booze, bacon and cream can make most things palatable I find. The mussels I purchased from a local farmers’ market, which I discovered all of three weeks ago, that has a lovely selection of meats, fish and vegetables (any suggestions for what to do with the 3 unidentified squash in my pantry welcome). It’s best to buy mussels the day you want to eat them, so they’re as fresh as possible. When you get ’em home, don’t put them in a bowl of water, as chlorinated tap water will kill them. Keep ’em in the fridge (if they came from the North Sea they’ve seen colder) until just before you need them, then clean them and check them over for cracks. And in case you were wondering, no, this is not a Belgian recipe. I just like playing around with words.
150g bacon lardons
4 spring onions
Half bottle (250ml) cider
A splash (1-2 tablespoons) of single cream
1. Fry the bacon lardons in a large saucepan. I don’t use oil with this as the bacon produces enough fat by itself. After a few minutes throw in the chopped spring onions.
2. Wash the mussels in a bowl of cold water. Pull of their “beards” (the stringy, grassy strands sticking out of the shells), and if they are very dirty rub a few together in your hands under a running tap. Check all the mussels are tightly closed, and if not give them a couple of firm raps on the shell. If they still don’t look like they want to close, throw them away.
3. Pour the cider into the pan with the bacon (I’ll leave you to decide what to do with the rest of the bottle) and wait until it is boiling before chucking the mussels into the pan. Leave them to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until most of them are fully open. Stir in the splash of cream and check the sauce for seasoning (I just added a little black pepper to my sauce, but found that with the mussel juice and the bacon it was quite salty enough without extra salt). Stir for another minute or so then quickly ladle the mussels into deep bowls, and pour the sauce over them.
Serves 2. This is lovely with some big fat hunks of bread to mop up the salty, cidery sauce. If any of the mussels haven’t opened in the pan, throw them out as they were dead before you cooked them. Apparently mussels decompose very quickly once dead which is why it’s important to check they’re still alive just before they’re cooked.