Flex your mus­sels

There’s no beat­ing the French when it comes to giv­ing your moules a lit­tle ooh la la, in­sists Si­mon Hop­kin­son

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Si­mon Hop­kin­son

There’s no beat­ing the French when it comes to giv­ing your moules a lit­tle ooh la la, in­sists Si­mon Hop­kin­son

THE worst of all ju­nior-ap­pren­tice chores I will ever re­call is that of tip­ping great sacks of filthy mus­sels into the maw of a huge, old cast-iron potato peeler that lived out­side the kitchen door of my first place of work. I was 16 years old and this was one of my ini­tial toils dur­ing my pre­cious, Christ­mas school hol­i­days. Of course, any­thing chef threw at me, I would do with­out ques­tion, be­ing an obe­di­ent teenager and al­ready know­ing full well that re­mov­ing the bar­na­cles, in­grained sand and seaweed from mus­sels prior to cooking them seemed an ob­vi­ous cleans­ing process.

I had pre­vi­ously wit­nessed pris­tine, blue-black-shelled mus­sels peep­ing up out of a wide and deep, two-han­dled solid pot, their orange flesh re­vealed in all their juicy joy, as Dad had cooked th­ese on the Aga, at home, since I was, oh, about eight years old.

Our town of Bury had—and does to this day—an es­pe­cially fine mar­ket both in­door and out, but it was the ‘out’ that al­ways seemed to be the favoured source of our reg­u­lar fam­ily shop­ping. Very few folk, th­ese days, shop the way that my par­ents did then. Each had an oc­cu­pa­tion (den­tist and school teacher), but they were able to make time to visit this as­ton­ish­ingly good mar­ket four or five times a week as a mat­ter of course.

This wasn’t be­cause it had ‘or­ganic greens’, ‘rare-breed meats’ or ‘ar­ti­san cheeses’—my favourite stall sold just the best Lan­cashire cheeses (‘a creamy, a crumbly or a tasty one, my duck: which would you like?’), which were quite com­mer­cially pro­duced, but mem­o­rably deli- cious. No, it was sim­ply a good mar­ket, full stop.

The fish stalls were the best of all. Whole hake of such beauty that it would make Pad­stow blush (be­fore most of the catch was shipped off to Spain); scallops, live in shell (in the 1960s!); plaice so fresh you could smell them from the far-off Granelli’s ice-cream van (where I would, most of­ten, be lin­ger­ing); and, of course, mag­nif­i­cent mus­sels piled up to peaks the size of small slag heaps.

I reckon four or five huge scoops of the fish­mon­ger’s trowel would have been no more than a mat­ter of pence, but yes, they, too, were filthy and needed a good scrub. Un­like me, how­ever, in my shiv­er­ing com­mis-chef role, Dad had the lux­ury of our Agawarmed kitchen in which to scrape, scrub and pol­ish his mol­luscs.

Moules marinière Serves 2

I know full well that the fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion will be of no use what­so­ever to those of you who don’t live in my manor of Shep­herd’s Bush, west Lon­don, but, for those who do, The Fish­mon­ger’s Kitchen at 119, Shep­herd’s Bush Road, W6 (020– 7603 0673; info@fish­mon­ger­skitchen.co.uk), has been a ver­i­ta­ble boon to me over the past few months. Although it has been a fine pur­veyor for sev­eral years, of late, it has blos­somed fur­ther by im­port­ing fish and shell­fish di­rect from the gi­ant Rungis mar­ket on the out­skirts of Paris.

Just one of the ben­e­fits of this is a reg­u­lar sup­ply of the pris­tine bou­chot mus­sels, which are so clean, so small, so sweet and de­li­cious that to cook them is to be at one with your very own kitchen rock­pool.

‘Of course, any­thing chef threw at me, I would do with­out ques­tion’

In­gre­di­ents

75g but­ter 1 finely chopped onion 250ml white wine 1kg mus­sels 2tb­spn chopped pars­ley Freshly milled white pep­per—

or cayenne, if you pre­fer

Method

Us­ing a very large pan with a lid, melt the but­ter and fry the onions in it un­til they’re soft­ened and trans­par­ent. Pour in the wine and al­low to come to the boil. Tip in the mus­sels, put on the lid and, hold­ing the pan in both hands, shake it around a bit. Put onto a high heat and cook for 2 min­utes. Take a look to see how they’re open­ing—it doesn’t take long—and give them an­other shake, try­ing to bring the more opened mus­sels from the bot­tom of the pan up to the top.

Re­turn to the heat, re­plac­ing the lid, and con­tinue cooking for a fur­ther few min­utes. Have an­other look and give an­other shake.

When it seems that most of the shells are open, tip in the pars­ley, add white pep­per (or cayenne), shake and stir around for the last time and tip into a large, pre­vi­ously heated bowl. It goes with­out say­ing that you will also need a lit­tle crusty bread here.

Mouclade Serves 2

In his col­umn for the Fi­nan­cial Times in 2007, my chum Row­ley Leigh writes thus about mouclade: ‘The fact is that the mildly ex­otic aroma of curry pow­der suits some French cooking per­fectly and nowhere more so than in the tan­ta­lis­ing whiff that it gives a good mouclade… and I can­not imag­ine achiev­ing the same ef­fect by us­ing one’s own [freshly made] garam masala [say]. There are times when au­then­tic just won’t do.’ And he’s right.

In­gre­di­ents

1 recipe for moules marinière (see above, mi­nus the pars­ley and sea­son­ing) 2–3tspn potato flour (fécule)

or, at a pinch, corn­flour 1–2tspn curry pow­der—i favour

the Bolst’s brand Large pinch of saf­fron (op­tional) 100ml dou­ble cream Squeeze of lemon juice

Method

Shell the mus­sels into a bowl and strain their juices through a fine sieve into a saucepan. Slake the potato flour (or corn­flour) with some water to make a thin paste. Bring the mus­sel juices up to a sim­mer and add the curry pow­der and saf­fron, if us­ing.

Sim­mer to in­fuse the spices for 5 min­utes or so, then very grad­u­ally stir in some of the thick­ener—you might not need all of it—un­til the sauce gen­er­ously coats the back of the spoon. Note that the sauce will thicken quickly, so take care.

Now, stir in the cream and lemon juice and bring back to a sim­mer. Stir in the mus­sels, heat through and check the sea­son­ing. Serve with grilled slices of sour­dough bread, rubbed with gar­lic and olive oil.

Your own kitchen rock­pool: bring the flavour of the seaside into your home with this mus­sel recipe

When au­then­tic just won’t do: a pinch of curry pow­der gives this de­li­cious mouclade an ex­otic and spicy kick

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