As things return to normal after the festive season (doesn't it seem like it goes on for a few days too long?), I have decided to cook up something a bit unusual for you. This is what I call a trick dish. It is perfect for a dinner party because everyone will be impressed you've cooked shellfish, and most don't realise how easy it is. But you either love it or hate it; there is no in-between. So make sure all your guests are onside before offering them crustaceans - or is a mussel a mollusc? Never mind, it tastes great.
Actually never mind what it looks like, too; mussels are not the most inviting of foods, although the glutenous, rather gory-looking interior is much improved upon cooking. I suppose the look may be, in part, why mussels are known as the poor man's shellfish. They do not have the regal image of the lobster, or the delicate taste of the shrimp. But I love them, because they are earthy, affordable and versatile.
The best way to cook them is to steam them. Just pop them in a heavy-based pan with a little liquid at the bottom and turn on the heat. Be sure not to overcook them, though, or you will end up with a horrible rubbery thing, and your guests might walk out. As soon as the shells start to open, fish them out (yes, pun intended). Chuck out any that fail to open completely, as they are not safe to eat. In this recipe I steam them with thyme, shallots and chilli, but you can use anything you fancy such as ginger or even something more exotic like lemongrass. And if you feel like a more substantial dish, then cook up some pasta and serve them on top .
Don't forget to take full advantage of that glorious cooking liquid, though - it's like a sea-foody, flavoursome stock that you can soak up with white, crusty bread. The best bread in Abu Dhabi, by the way, comes from Carrefour; trust the French to get that right.
Bon appétit, mes amis!
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Spicy marinated mussels
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes
200g unsalted butter, softened
1 clove of garlic, crushed
200ml extra virgin olive oil
8 sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
500g onion, finely chopped (about 4 medium ones)
10g fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1kg fresh mussels, thoroughly washed and debearded (about 30 to 40 large ones or 60 to 70 small ones)
50ml vegetable stock
Salt to taste
1. Whisk the butter in a food processor with the crushed garlic until light and creamy. Slowly add the extra virgin olive oil, drizzling in gradually.
2. Blend the thyme leaves with the butter-oil mixture.
3. In a large sauce pan add the onions, chopped chilli, mussels and vegetable stock. Cover and steam until all the mussels open.
4. Pour out half the liquid from the pan and mix with the butter-oil mixture.
5. Serve the mussels in four bowls and pour the broth on top, garnishing with the chopped thyme.