Such a yummy combination – firm, well-defined, toned mussels in a deeply delicious beer and cream sauce. Doesn’t that sound like something that should grace the cover of a Mills & Boon?
I came across this recipe many, many years ago in the YOU Magazine – and I’m not ashamed to say that back then it was my absolute favourite read, full of nosy stories and recipes submitted by us regular folk. Since then it has become (in my opinion) significantly more like a magazine that I won’t name, but will say that it’s title rhymes with Meeple.
I had never tasted mussels cooked this way but something about the photograph alongside the recipe appealed to me – looking at it, I could practically smell the sea breeze and hear the seagulls screeching; it was like being apparated to The Brass Bell in Kalk Bay. Or maybe I was just homesick when I saw it.
I was a little nervous about cooking mussels for the first time because I thought that a) they would be overcooked, leaving my poor unfortunate friends chomping manfully away on salty lumps of vulcanised rubber, or b) they would be undercooked and we would all end up in the ICU with Listeria monocytogenes marching around our innards.
Fortunately my love for beer and for mussels (the open shells look like butterflies!) overcame my paranoia, and although they are not nearly as photogenic as what appeared in the YOU, they are absolutely delicious. For a brief moment after the first sip, I thought that the beer and cream were somehow discordant (oooh, big word) but then the moment passed and all was right with the world. The bitterness of the beer gives a nice edge to what could otherwise have been an overwhelmingly cow-y creaminess, the mussels were perfectly cooked, and it made the perfect vehicle for getting more beer bread *angel song* into the diet… I will definitely try this again with prawns and chilli, or perhaps experiment with other herbs (the herbs looked great but they weren’t exactly asserting themselves in the flavour department… completely my fault because I used parsley by accident, instead of thyme).
For the marginally adapted version of the YOU’s beer and garlic mussels:
(enough for 4 people. 3 people, if I’m one of them and there is beer bread handy)
2 tablespoons of butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100ml finely chopped fresh herbs – I used chives and flat-leaf parsley, the YOU says to try chives and thyme
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 can of beer (330ml)
500g open-shelled mussels
Melt the butter and fry the onion until translucent; add the garlic and fry for another minute making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
Add the herbs, seasoning, beer and mussels; cover with a lid and cook until the mussels are done – 3 minutes. Stop inhaling the alcoholic vapours with a silly grin on your face, you will only end up overcooking the mussels.
Remove the mussels and set aside – don’t worry if some of the onion and other bits and bobs are stuck to the mussels. Add the cream to the beer concoction, bring to a simmer and reduce by half – the YOU says 5 minutes but I hung around for absolutely ages and it never quite got to half.
Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve with large quantities of beer bread (I prefer mine – the shame! – unbuttered since the sauce is so rich, but do whatever you like) and crunchy stir-fried Spring green things. Exclaim over the perfectly-cooked juicy mussels, then mop up the alcoholic soupy-ness of the sauce with far too much bread. Save the mussel shells for thorough cleaning and recycling as spoons or fancy canape-holders another time.
Afterwards, while someone else does the dishes, try The Waves by Virginia Woolf for a bit of coastal poeticalness. I haven’t yet finished it: it’s a good book for dipping into and the recurring wavy bits are very pretty and not too taxing on the grey matter, which makes it ideal for that space between a large meal and an afternoon nap.
(I think that’s what my bowl of beer mussels was saying. So I obliged, of course).