Once of those foods that people constantly walk past and ignore in the supermarket is the mussels in the the water-sprayer-thing. For some reason the humble New Zealand green-lipped mussel just doesn’t get a good showing these days.
Not that that’s such a bad thing. The ones in the sprayer-thing are often over-farmed. They’re too large, which means too chewy. Being large also means they have large guts, which are often full of grit, or just plain nasty. And they’re covered in barnacles. And you have to chip the blighters off or they’ll die into your food. But if you have the time, then all good.
Fortunately I discovered the holy grail at the weekend. When snooping around in Moore Wilsons for some sauerkraut and wurst I noticed that they had 1kg bags of “baby mussels” for $10. That’s a damn good price. A tiny bit more expensive that the regular mussels, but I knew they’d be “primo”.
So here we go.
This recipe could also be called, “garlic mussels”. It’s a simple dish that will make the most of the tenderness and delicacy of this particular New Zealand delicacy. All you need is some fresh garlic, some fresh bread, a little butter, and a large pan.
There is really only one trick with mussels, and that’s to remove the beard before you cook them. The beard looks like it sounds, a little bit of hairy stuff poking out of the shell. You just grab it firmly, and pull it out of the shell. You can leave it in, but it doesn’t make good eating.
If you spot any of them with their shells open, chuck them out. They’re dead and might give you food poisoning. Most restaurants don’t bother with this, but you should be more careful.
Now with these little guys there’s more work. But considering how much more tender they are, it’s a decent trade-off.
Once you’ve got the mussels cleaned and sitting, the thing to do is peel your garlic, then chop it roughly. It doesn’t need to be too fine. This is a dish for all those students out there on the bread-line. Chucking bread in will make sure the meal will feed two people. And for less than $15. Better than an American fastfood chain, but more expensive than fish and chips. And healthier than both combined.
Put a little butter in the big pan (I’m using a wok), then add some olive oil. Next, add your spices. These don’t need to be fancy. I’m crushing a little black pepper in my pestle. Firstly it tastes better, and second it’s cheaper than paying someone else.
The next step is to add the remainder of the stuff. This photo is the butter, oil, some red pepper, the black pepper, the chopped garlic, and a little salt. Turns out I over-salted, but not too badly. Probably a pinch is about right. The mussels already have plenty of salt in them…
Stir this mixture until the garlic just begins to sizzle. Don’t brown the garlic, you want it to still be quite tangy.
When the pan is hot enough, tip all the mussels in. Turn the heat up to the highest it can go. All you have to do from here is stir. Keep the mussels turning over in the pan, and soaking up the heat. This cooks the mussel through it’s shell.
Soooo…. yes. You are actually killing a living creature in this dish.
Once the shells are open the mussels will dump the water they were storing, and it finishes the cooking. As you can see below, the mussels are open, and the water is bubbling. This means you’re good to go. Keep stirring the dish until all the mussels are at least partially open.
Finally, serve the mussels into a bowl, tip some of the liquid over them (it becomes a delicious soup). To eat them, just fish each individual mussel out of its shell with a fork, and discard the shells.
Eat with the fresh bread! (dipping this in the soup is also recommended).