God knows why, but I’ve only ever eaten chilli mussels when dining out; cooking them at home has – until this moment – seemed more trouble than it’s worth.
Maybe it’s because the eating of chilli mussels is such a ritual, requiring a full bib and accompanying bowl of hot water to deal with the hugely satisfying but undeniably messyprocess of consumption.
We’re so used to eating with cutlery these days that it’s intensely gratifying to tuck into a hearty meal with your bare hands – cracking open mussel shells, slurping out the saucy contents and dunking big, crusty hunks of bread into the chilli tomato broth with complete abandon…
So the time finally came to replicate this dish at home and I found it so straight forward that it could easily be a mid-week dinner option, rather than saved for special occasions only.
As an added bonus mussels are not only hugely nutritious (being naturally low in fat and great sources of protein) but they’re also one of the most inexpensive seafood options. Bravo!
chilli mussels with quick garlic bread
1 kg fresh mussels 1 onion, finely chopped 2-3 red chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced 1 lemongrass stem, white part only finely chopped 5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp white sugar 1 jar tomato passata (approximate equivalent to 3-4 cups) 1 cup dry white wine ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve sea salt
garlic bread 1 loaf crusty white bread, cut into inch slices ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped fresh thyme springs, leaves picked
Firstly, discard any mussels which are chipped, broken or open. The specimens intended for the cooking pot should be tightly closed, meaning they are healthy and fresh.
Using a stiff-bristled brush, scrub the mussels under cold running water to remove any surface grit or barnacles.
Remove the beards (small fibrous tufts emerging from inside the shells) by holding the mussel in one hand, covering the other hand with a dry towel, and tugging the beard towards the hinge end of the mussel. Place the cleaned mussels in the fridge in a tea towel-lined until ready to cook.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, chillies and lemongrass, cooking very gently for 15 minutes until softened and the onions are golden (you may have to turn the heat down to avoid burning).
Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes. Add the tomato passata, white wine, sugar and seasonings, then cover and bring to the boil. Uncover the sauce and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, over low heat until very reduced.
I prefer my chilli tomato sauce to be nice and thick (as it makes for great bread dunking) but if you prefer it looser or less concentrated, cut the simmering time to 15 minutes. While your chilli sauce is cooking you can get to work on my cheat’s version of garlic bread.
Start by pre-heating the grill function of your oven. Pour the olive oil in a wide, shallow bowl and add the garlic and thyme leaves, stirring to infuse the oil.
Grab a slice of crusty bread, lightly and briefly place it face down in the garlic oil and place on baking tray. Repeat with all the bread slices, adding more oil to the bowl if required.
Distribute the garlic pieces and thyme remaining in the bottom of the bowl between the bread slices and place under the grill until golden brown. When they’re done, turn off the grill and keep the garlic bread warm until ready to serve.
When the chilli tomato sauce has reduced to your liking, add the chopped fresh parsley. Turn the heat to high and when it begins to bubble, carefully add the mussels.
Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the mussels have opened. Remove the saucepan from the heat and discard any unopened shells you can see.
Distribute the cooked mussels among your serving bowls and ladle the hot sauce over the top.
Sprinkle with more fresh parsley and serve with slice of garlic bread.