This weekend, Gomez and I spent the day in Swansea at The Welsh Menu Food Festival (Gomez will do a full write up of the event). One of the events was the pro-celebrity cooking challenge in Swansea Market featuring Kieron Self from BBC One’s My Family. After the demo, we explored Swansea Market, stopping in stalls suggested by my twitter friend @swanseafoodie. If you have not made a trip to Swansea Market it is worth a visit. It is the largest indoor market in Wales and has a wide variety of high quality fresh produce.
Normally when Gomez and I have a full day out on the weekend, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook. However as I was browsing the wonderful fresh produce in Swansea Market, I noticed that one of the fish mongers (Coakley Greene) had some beautiful, freshly landed, local mussels. Now, I don’t get mussels often in my neck of the woods but, I do know from days as a student in Paris, steamed mussels are my perfect fast food. So, happy as a clam, I bought a kilo to cook later!
At The Welsh Menu Food Festival, we went to a talk given by Toloja Welsh Cider about their traditional and natural methods of producing cider. I thought to myself, why not use some cider in the broth to steam the mussels instead of the traditional white wine and so we bought a small container.
There are many different ways to prepare your mussels before cooking. The way that I find the easiest is to dump the mussels in a sink of cold water as soon as I get home. This helps to clean out any sand that may be in the shell. Then I throw out any that float to the top, are broken, or do not close after I have given them a good tap. The mussels I bought were already “debearded”; the hairy fibres that you find on mussels were already removed. These days most mongers sell mussels already cleaned so do try to buy those if you really want fast food but if not, it will only take a few minutes to clean them by yanking the fibres from the shell.
To cook the mussels, I heated a little olive oil in a large pot and then added some chopped, smoked, streaky bacon from The Welsh Pig Co. in Raglan, Monmouthshire and cooked for a couple of minutes until the fat had rendered out of the bacon. I used about 200 grams. Whilst it was cooking, I sliced a bunch of green onions, chopped a clove of garlic, and picked some fresh tarragon from the garden which I then threw in the pot and gave a good stir. After about 1 minute, I added about 150ml of cider to the pot, gave it all a good stir, added the mussels, and then covered the pot with the lid. The mussels are cooked when the shells are open. I checked on them after 3 minutes and they had all opened. If you haven’t cooked mussels before, you might want to use a pot with a see through lid so that you can see when the shells have opened. If you over cook they will become tough and if you open the lid too soon, you will lose the steam which is needed to cook them. As a guide, 1 kg of mussels will cook in 3 to 5 minutes.
Use your imagination when making steamed mussels. Instead of cider you could use coconut milk and sauté some garlic, ginger and lemongrass first. Or cook tomatoes until tender with onion and garlic and add white wine for the liquid. Saffron as well would be a beautiful spice to add to the cooking pot!
I served the steaming bowls of fragrant mussels with fresh bread to soak up the lovely broth and some chips which I had popped in the oven whilst the mussels were soaking. The mussels took 10 minutes to prepare and cook so for me the perfect homemade fast food! Enjoy!