Mussels in a creamy curry sauce – divine!

30 May

They say every cloud has a silver lining.  For me, when summer is over, it means that for 8 months there is a ‘R’ in the month and I can get fresh mussels.  It never fails to amaze me how many people have never tried mussels because they are put off by the look of them.  For me, they are the most delicious of all the sea foods.  I know they come bottled in vinegar and you can buy them ready cooked in the supermarket.  You can even get them vacuum packed and ready to cook, but there is absolutely no comparison to the wonderful, soft, melt-in-your-mouth morsels that are cooked from raw.

I have been making this mussel recipe for years and yet, every time I make it, the fantastic flavours still surprise me.  This time was no exception.  I could almost hear myself purring as I dipped my crusty french stick into the delicious sauce.  Wonderful!

So lets take a look at why I can’t buy mussels in months without an ‘R’.   Mussels are often regarded as poor man’s shellfish because they are cheap and plentiful. In the wild, they grow on coastline rocks and stones but the majority of mussels available in the UK are farmed in suitable coastal waters. Mussels are one of the most environmentally sound types of fish or shellfish available. There’s no hefty price tag and, what’s more, these little creatures are in abundance.  They have two shells (bivalves) through which they filter water and feed on the algae and plankton they find in it. Plankton in the water for a shellfish is like grass in a field for a cow. In this way, the shellfish are grazing upon the sea. What they’re grazing on are tiny (as small as 1/50th of a millimeter) aquatic life forms called flagellates.  One reason for this old saying is that during the summer months the flagellates bloom and become more prolific.  At this time they can create ‘red tides’ and it is these that have been associated with poisoning from shellfish.  If the mussels are farmed it is unlikely this is the cause of not being available.  More likely it is because the mussels themselves are reproducing along with the fact that it is much easier for mussels to go bad during high temperatures.

There are a few golden rules when cooking mussels.  Firstly, always wash them well and remove any ‘beard’ you see poking out between the shells.  Only ever cook mussels that are closed when raw but do not discard them until you have tried tapping them sharply with a knife.  If the mussel is still alive the shells will close as it will think this is the beak of a bird trying to eat it.  If it remains open throw it away, its dead and may well be toxic.  Once cooked, only eat the mussels that have opened sufficiently for you to see them nestled between the shells.  This last point has not really been proved but I am not going to argue with the experts.

Anyway, I really hope you give this recipe a try, it is absolutely wonderful!

Mussels in a creamy curry sauce                     Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1 kg/ 2lbs 4 ozs fresh mussels
  • 150 ml/1/4 pt dry white wine
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 25 g/1 oz butter
  • 1tsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp madras curry paste (I use Pataks)
  • 100 g/4 oz creme fraiche (you can use low-fat if you are watching your weight but the sauce will be slightly thinner
  • a small handful of parsley
  1. Prepare the mussels as discussed above.  Put them in a large pan with the wine.  Cover, bring to the boil then cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened.  Shake the pan a few times during this process and be careful not to overcook them.
  2. Strain the mussels over a bowl so you capture the cooking liquor.  You will need this for the sauce so don’t throw it away.  Cover the mussels with a cloth to keep them warm while you make the sauce.
  3. Fry the shallots in the butter in a frying pan until it is soft and not browned.  This will only take a couple of minutes.  Stir in the flour and curry paste and mix well.  Cook for about 1 minute.  Add the cooking liquor carefully so as not to disturb any gritty bits which will have sunk to the bottom.  Discard the last of the liquor to avoid this going into your sauce.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the creme fraiche until the sauce is thick and glossy.  Check the sauce is hot then add the parsley.  Divide the mussels between two large bowls and pour the sauce over.  Serve with large chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

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