- Soak the saffron threads in a little boiled water.
- To prepare mussels for cooking, soak raw mussels in cold water for 10 minutes, scrub and remove the beard.
- Meanwhile, sauté the shallot and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes over low heat in a saucepan.
- Place thyme sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns in the base of a pan large enough to accommodate the mussels in no more than 2 layers. (We also added some bits of spring onion and fennel that had to hand.) Add enough dry white wine to cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of 1cm.
- Seal with a tight-fitting lid (close any steam vents), turn heat to maximum and wait 5 minutes. Remove from heat, lift lid and remove all the mussels that have opened. Place the pan back on the heat for 2 minutes and discard any mussels that have not opened at this second attempt. Transfer the mussels to a large warm bowl, remove half of each shell and discard; keep the mussels just warm. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and discard the seasonings.
- Add brandy to the saucepan of shallot and garlic and cook off then add saffron threads and about 100ml of the reserved cooking liquid. Cook briefly, add more of the liquid to taste, say 60ml, adjust seasoning and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cream and parsley, bring back to simmer and remove from the heat. Add a couple of sprinkles of cayenne pepper to suit your palate.
- Divide mussels in their half-shells between warm bowls, spoon sauce over mussels and serve immediately, with fresh crusty bread.