Here I will carry on from my last blog post with the actual meal that I intended to cook in the first place! Before I got sidetracked into buying the prawns, the main reason that I went to Borough Market at the weekend was to buy the ‘nduja to make the sauce for my mussel broth. You can buy the rest of the ingredients from most fishmongers and greengrocers, but I have travelled to loads of Italian delis around Stoke Newington and couldn’t find it anywhere. I always try and find my ingredients as locally as possible, and if I fail with that then I know that I can get pretty much anything from Borough, even though it is a bit of a trek from north London. From researching on Twitter, I knew that there were stalls that sold the soft, spicy salami from southern Italy, and luckily I managed to stumble upon one really quickly. The guys at the De Calabria stall were very friendly, and I was happy to have found what I had come for.
In the past I have used sombrasada, which is a soft chorizo from Spain, and very similar to the ‘nduja in texture. However, the ‘nduja carries a much meatier and savoury flavour, with a much spicier kick than it’s Spanish equivalent, which I thought would work really well with the cider broth and the mussels. I’ve still got a big chunk of the stuff in the fridge, and am always so tempted to slap it on some crusty bread when I stumble back from work hungry. Aside from this broth, it will work really well in giving backbone and depth to soups and sauces, and I can’t wait to have it with some fresh pasta. As it’s strong and spicy, you only need a tiny bit to make an impact; a little definitely goes a long way.
I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to write about mussels in this blog, as they are right up there with my favourite seafood. I started eating them on holidays with my parents cooked with white wine, cream and garlic and haven’t looked back since. Although I still love moules mariniere, or even better, moules frites, there are so many more ways to cook mussels. They handle big flavours really well, so using things like ‘nduja, cider and paprika is no problem. The key is in the preparation and cooking of the mussels. Always buy fresh live mussels from a good fishmonger in the months when they are in season. Make sure you de-beard them, and while you do this, discard any mussels that are broken, or that don’t close when given a sharp tap. They only need to be quickly steamed, otherwise they go very rubbery and won’t be nice! If you haven't already, I urge you to give them a go. They are also really sustainable and excellent value for money, which can only be a good thing.
To give my sauce even more flavour and a little sweetness, I used the leftover shells from the prawns that we had eaten as a starter. You could see if your fishmonger has any spare, but this is not totally essential, and the sauce will be lovely if you don’t have the shells.
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 for a light lunch or starter.
1kg live mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 fennel, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1 tsp tomato puree
75g ‘nduja, skin removed and roughly chopped
1 small pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
1.5 litres good fish stock
250ml dry cider, I used Black Fox organic
1 splash brandy
Shellfish shells (optional)
400g butter beans, pre-soaked or tinned and drained well
1 large handful small cherry tomatoes, halved
5 sprigs tarragon, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 lemon, juice only
A few rocket leaves
Soda bread and butter
Heat up a large saucepan or skillet to a medium heat and add a little oil. When up to temperature, add the shallot, season and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the fennel, carrot, garlic, chilli and paprika and cook for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables start to become tender. Stir in the ‘nduja, saffron and tomato puree and cook for another couple of minutes, so that the ‘nduja dissolves into the sauce and the puree has cooked out. If you are using the shellfish shells, you can add them at this point too and saute. Turn up the heat slightly and pour over the brandy and carefully flambe, burning away all of the alcohol. Add the cider and reduce by half, then top up with the fish stock and bay leaf. Bring to the boil before turning the heat back down to medium and seasoning well. Cook uncovered until the liquid has reduced by about two-thirds, stirring occasionally. This reduction process should take around 30-45 minutes.
When the mixture has reduced, strain the liquid through a sieve into a bowl, pushing down on everything to make sure that every drop of liquid and flavour goes through. Discard the vegetables in the sieve and put the strained sauce into the cleaned saucepan. Heat the sauce back up and when simmering, add the drained butter beans and cherry tomatoes.
Turn the heat up, bring the sauce back to the boil and add the prepared mussels. Cover the saucepan and give it a shake. Keep the pan covered and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until all of the mussels have opened. When the mussels are cooked, remove them from the pan and set aside. Stir through the lemon juice, tarragon and seasoning before tasting and adjusting.
To plate up, spoon some of the sauce, beans and tomatoes into a bowl and then add some of the cooked mussels. Top with a little rocket, a drizzle of olive oil and serve with some crusty soda bread and butter.