I’ve got behind on talking about the cook books / blogs that we used as the basis of our March meal plans. Which means you’ve been spared a blog post full of me banging on about how excellent all my old recipes are. (Although in all seriousness, I cooked five recipes from this blog’s back catalogue and they were all delicious. Yay me.)
During the week in which we cooked from Valentine Warner’s “The Good Table” there was, for me at least, one stand out dish. I’m usually a bit chary of sharing recipes here that appear in books or magazines because…y’know…copyright but this one happens to be posted on Mr Warner’s own website, so I figured that it wouldn’t cause any great harm if I reproduced it here as long as I linked to it. Voici le link.
It is such a simple idea that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it previously – creating a béchamel sauce using the wondrously fragrant, sea-redolent cooking liquor of the mussels and then stirring the little blighters through to create a rich, creamy pile of deliciousness. Yes, I am getting a little adjective heavy here but I thought it was that good. We’re coming to the end of mussel season now (if you hold by the old adage that you should only eat them if there is an “r” in the month) so maybe this is one to tuck behind your ear for a bit later on when the nights begin to draw in again. It is comfort food par excellence.
Mr Warner suggests serving the mussels on toasted soda bread and the slightly dense, cakey texture does hold up particularly well here. I commend to you my very own soda bread recipe – it’s an absolute doddle to make and, I think, worth the effort in this case.
500g mussels, in the shell, cleaned and beards removed
Level tablespoon plain flour
A good grating (perhaps ¼ tsp) of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Small handful chopped curly leaf parsley
2 thick slices of soda bread, toasted
Put the mussels in a large pan with a splash of water, cover and cook over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the shells have started to open. You may need to give them a good shake about half way through the cooking time to ensure that they are evenly distributed – also, it is an excellent stress reliever.
Remove them using a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the remaining juices into a small jug ready to make the sauce.
When they have cooled slightly, remove the mussel meat from the shells and hold them ready to go in the sauce. Discard any mussels which have failed to open at this point.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. When it is just on the point of foaming, add the flour and stir briskly to make a paste – I always favour a wooden spoon for this operation. Continue to stir until the paste is beginning to dry out – you will notice that it starts to form a ball away from the sides of the pan.
Now you can add the strained mussel juice, a little bit at a time, stirring hard in between each addition until the sauce appears smooth. A liberal application of elbow grease is required here. Once the mussel juice has gone, start adding the milk in a similar fashion, until it has all been absorbed and you have a creamy white sauce.
Turn the heat up a smidge and allow the whole to simmer for 5 or so minutes. Then, add the nutmeg to taste (not too much – nutmeg can take over a party if you allow it), a pinch of salt (again, not too much, there is a natural salinity to the mussels) and plenty of black pepper. Finally, stir in the mussels and the parsley and heat for a further 30 seconds to ensure that the meat is warmed through.
Toast the bread, butter it if you wish (I always wish for more butter) and then spoon over the creamy mass of mussels and serve immediately.
Note: I am convinced that this would make a fabulous brunch dish, if you were looking for something a bit different. If you were planning on doing it for brunch, I would recommend making the béchamel and the soda bread the day before, and then all you would need to do in the morning is make toast and stir through the mussels. If you do ever make béchamel in advance, once it is cooled, cover with a layer of cling film directly touching the surface of the sauce – this will prevent a skin from forming.