Clean up alert! This dish generates numerous dishes, a large volume of detritus and, if you are not careful, a messy cooktop.
The inspiration for this dish came during a visit to Nice in December 2009.
We were on a coach tour of France and spent two nights in Nice. In some free time one morning, we visited the renowned flower markets. Afterwards, we chose to have lunch at one of the many nearby seafood restaurants; one of my two dishes was a bowl of small French mussels served with a wonderful sauce.
We were already practised in preparing a meal of chilli mussels – a dish we still enjoy – so we felt confident that we could pull this dish off too. Indeed, this recipe does produce a result that has pleasing echoes of my experience in Nice. A critical step is to sauté the shallot and garlic slowly and for a decent length of time, long enough to try your patience! A sweet edge in your sauce, enhanced by the brandy, will reward your patience.
There will be enough mussels to feed two persons for lunch or four persons as an entrée. (Note to Australian readers: do NOT use the ubiquitous large green-lipped mussels. This is a delicate dish, for which we use smaller mussels harvested less than 50km from Melbourne and supplied by Theo and Sons at Prahran Market.)
In a follow-up post, I will provide some additional photos of the method.
generous pinch of saffron threads
1kg fresh mussels
1 tbsp olive oil
100g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
4-6 thyme sprigs, bay leaf and 10 black peppercorns
1 tbsp brandy
salt and pepper
80ml thin cream
2 tbsp chopped parsley
cayenne pepper (optional)
- 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 at least 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. 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.