There is currently much concern regarding the sustainability of lots of seafood and the impact of over-fishing and climate change. Happily, one type of seafood is simple to both source and cultivate and remains plentiful, inexpensive, delicious and easy to cook. Bring on, one of my favourite bivalves – mussels. Why mussels are seemingly underrated is a mystery to me unless it a question of aesthetics, which I can sort of understand, although personally I have no qualms about eating bite size morsels of briny perfection. There are many ways of preparing mussels for the table but I always think classic methods are favoured for good reason and I don't think you can beat the Gallic staple of moules marinière.
Ingredients: (Serves 4 people)
Mussels x 2 kilograms
White onions x 2
Garlic x 2 large cloves
Butter x 150 grams
Dry, white wine x 1 half-bottle (Muscadet or Picpoul de Pinet would be ideal).
Chopped chives x 1 heaped tablespoon
Chopped parsley x 1 heaped tablespoon
Dried bay leaves x 4
Soak the mussels in cold salted water for 20 minutes so that they expel any ingested sand. Give the shells a scrub to remove any barnacles, and remove any 'beards' with a sharp knife, pulling the beard along the line of the shell. Check that they are all firmly closed. Fresh mussels need to be alive to be 'good' - discard any that are open, have broken shells or any that float to the surface as they will be dead. If in doubt with an open mussel - tap it on the work counter - if it does not then move, discard it.
In a large, high-sided saucepan melt the butter and warm through the finely sliced onions and chopped garlic, adding the herbs as they cook until the onions become soft and translucent. They should not be browned. Then add the wine to the pan and all of the cleaned and drained mussels. Put the lid on the pan and turn up the heat for 4 to 5 minutes until the mussels are cooked and have opened.
Distribute the mussels evenly in pre-warmed bowls adding equal quantities of the cooking juices to each bowl. Serve immediately with fresh bread (and butter if desired) and a glass of Muscadet or Picpoul de Pinet.