Mussels are almost certainly the quickest and cheapest food you can turn into a restaurant quality meal. Although fresh mussels are elusive in my part of London, when you do find them, they tend to cost around £3-4 per kilo, which is enough for two people. I cooked this dish a few weeks ago during a visit to Holland, after a day wandering around the seaside at Marken where mussels are very easy to track down, and more importantly, where I had a helper for the fiddly and tiresome cleaning and debearding process. By helper, I of course mean person who undertook the bulk of this task while I sampled the wine to make sure it was fit for purpose (both equally important tasks, I like to think). I know frites are pretty classic with mussels, but I have to say I prefer some good crusty bread to mop up all the sauce.
Serves two as a main dish (if served with a baguette or some such)
- 1kg mussels
- 100g chopped bacon
- 1 head of fennel
- 150ml white wine
- 100ml cream
- Sprig or two of thyme
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic chopped
- First clean the mussels.This involves scraping any gunk and barnacles off the shells, removing the beards (the strands of hair that protrude from the shell) and rinsing vigorously in cold water.
- As a general rule, mussels that are open and do not close quickly when given a sharp tap, or whose shells are quite damaged should be discarded as they may be dead (I would tend to err on the side of caution in this, there is no point being a hero over shellfish).
- In a pan large enough to fit all the mussels easily (and cover with a lid) heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat.
- Add the bacon and fry for 2-3 minutes until starting to crisp.
- Add the fennel, thyme and garlic and cook down for another 2 minutes until it has coloured.
- Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes.
- Strain out the fennel,bacon, thyme etc and return the wine to the pan.
- Add the cream.
- Increase the heat slightly add the mussels and cook for 4-5 minutes with a lid until they have opened, shaking the pan once or twice to move it all around a bit.
- Any mussels which haven’t opened after this time should also be discarded, as they may be dead.
- Serve immediately with good crusty bread