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Recipe: show me the mussels

What bouchot mussels lack in size they more than make up for in taste and tenderness

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

 

I'm a fan of French bouchot mussels, which are grown on posts planted in the seabed. The mussels are harvested when they're still quite small (the shells are about 4cm in length or less) so the meat is sweet and tender. They're getting easier to find in Hong Kong (we bought ours at City'super) and, unlike the mussels of yesteryear, which needed to be de-bearded and cleaned, the ones sold at supermarkets are ready to cook.

 

Mussels with potatoes, peppers and rouille (pictured)

 

300 grams small potatoes (preferably no larger than 3cm long)
100 grams unsalted butter
1 large leek, white and pale green part only
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
150ml dry white wine
1.2kg bouchot mussels
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

For the rouille:
1 potato (taken from the ones cooked for the mussels)
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed to a paste

½tsp piment d'Espelette or cayenne, or to taste
½tsp saffron threads, roughly chopped, soaked in 15ml hot water, then cooled to lukewarm
250ml olive oil (or use 125ml olive oil and 125ml canola or grapeseed oil)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Thin baguette slices, toasted

 

Scrub the potatoes but don't peel them. Put them in a pot and add enough cool, heavily salted water to cover them by about 2cm. Place the pot over a medium flame, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they're just tender enough to be pierced with a knife; do not overcook them. Rinse them with cold running water. Set aside one potato (or two, if they're very small) for the rouille; cut the others in half.

Make the rouille. Peel the potato and mash it to a smooth paste. Mix it with the egg yolk, crushed garlic, piment d'Espelette and a large pinch of salt. Whisking constantly, start adding the oil a drop or two at a time, making sure it's fully mixed in before adding more. Don't add the oil too quickly or the mixture will curdle; once you have a stable emulsion, start whisking in the oil in a very thin, steady stream. After adding about a quarter of the oil, whisk in some of the saffron threads and liquid. Continue to whisk in the oil, adding some saffron intermittently. Taste the rouille and add salt and a little lemon juice, if needed. Trim off and discard the stem end of the leek. Slice the leek lengthwise into quarters then cut into 5mm pieces. Put the leek in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Cut the bell peppers into 8mm-wide strips. 

Put the butter in a wide pan large enough to fit the mussels (they'll expand as they open) and set it over a low flame. When the butter is half melted, add the leek and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the leek is soft. Add the garlic and bell pepper and cook over a medium flame until the pepper starts to soften. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the white wine, bring to a boil and cook for about 90 seconds. Add the mussels then cover the pan with the lid and simmer, shaking the pan frequently. Cook the mussels until they open (about three minutes).

Toast the baguette slices, then spread some of the rouille over each piece. Ladle the mussels and the cooking liquid into bowls and serve with the rouille toast. If you like, add some rouille into the broth after eating the mussels, and drink it as a garlicky, spicy - and delicious - soup. 

 

Pasta with mussels, pancetta and petits pois
This is a good dish that uses up any leftover cooked mussels from the above recipe.

 

200 grams linguine or spaghetti
100 grams frozen petits pois, defrosted
20ml olive oil
75 grams pancetta, sliced about 5mm thick
2 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
30 (or more) cooked mussels
100ml of the liquid used to cook the mussels
100ml cream
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Boil the pasta until al dente in heavily salted water. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce.

Remove the mussels from the shells. Cut off and discard the rind from the pancetta, then cut the meat into 5mm-wide strips. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the pancetta and cook over a medium flame until the meat starts to brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta from the pan, leaving behind the fat. Put the pan over a low flame, add the shallot and garlic and cook until soft, stirring often. Add the cooking liquid and bring to a boil, then cook it until it's reduced by half. Stir in the cream and heat until simmering, then add the peas, mussels, pancetta plus salt and pepper to taste (it might not need salt).

When the pasta is al dente, drain it briefly but do not rinse. Add it to the skillet and coat with the sauce. Divide between two plates and serve.

 

 

 

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