I have a special place in my heart for mussels. Mussels were my gateway drug to shellfish. It started at a party. There were people to impress, I had a reputation to maintain. I tried a smoked mussel tentatively, nervously, surprised at how good it felt. After that came scallops. Then I moved on to harder stuff. Regular clams were followed Razor clams. Raw scallop by raw sea urchin. At this stage, there isn’t a mollusc I can say no to.
Mussels are pretty universal in any European country with a coastline. You find them north and south, in warm waters and cold. They are also the most inexpensive of shellfish, at least anywhere I’ve lived. Though not, of course, anywhere near as cheap as Jamie Oliver seems to think. Here in Denmark you can usually get two kilos for about 35 kroner, which is pretty affordable by Danish standards. They come fresh from the Limfjord, an hour north of Aarhus. It’s better known internationally for its oysters, but Limfjord mussels are beautifully blue shelled creatures, very plump and sweet. You can see the incredible blue in my wallpaper photo, which was taken on the edge of the Limfjord.
Mussels with alioli is a Spanish inspired tapa. Mussels are served all over Spain in various tapa styles. This makes enough for 4 as a meal with bread or frites, 8 as a tapa, or a nice big sharing plate for a party.
For the mussels
- 2kg of mussels
- 150ml wine
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped, white and light green parts only
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
For the alioli
- 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
- Approximately 100ml to 150ml of neutral oil like sunflower
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds
- Salt, pepper,lemon juice and honey, to taste
- First make the alioli.
- Toast the fennels seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant.
- Put the egg yolk, garlic, mustard and vinegar in a large bowl and whisk together.
- Using an electric whisk, or hand whisk if you’re incredibly strong or masochistic, slowly whisk in the oil teaspoon by teaspoon.
- Whisk well for 30 seconds to 1 minute before adding next teaspoon.
- The alioli will slowly emulsify over the course of about five minutes, but you have to be very careful not to add too much oil at once or it won’t work.
- Once it is nice and thick add the fennel seeds.
- Season with lemon juice, salt, pepper and (if you like it a bit sweeter) honey to your taste.
- Clean and check the mussels.
- Clean by scrubbing under running water.
- Any open mussels, tap them on the side of the sink.
- The mussels should close up quickly.
- If the mussels don’t close up throw them out, they’re dead.
- Saute the onion and leek in the butter on a low-medium heat in a pan large enough to hold the mussels.
- After 3-4 minutes, add the garlic.
- After 5 minutes, add the wine.
- Turn up the heat, add the mussels and put a lid on the pan.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes until the mussels are all open (there may be a few that don’t, throw them out, they’re dead too), shaking the pan every minutes or so.
- Remove the mussels, take off one side of the shell of each and arrange on a plate.
- Add a half teaspoon of aioli to each mussel.
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve.