Mussels with Leeks and Cider
Updated: Apr 6
"'Tis the season to be jolly"
Thomas Oliphant (1862)
Fresh back from hosting the 2021 #Game4Spice tour of India I think it's fair to say that a seafoodie taste of home was topping the menu. And it's at this time of year when I really do find mussels to be at their best. It's nothing to do with any 'r's in the month - it's something I have genuinely experienced over the years - that the same mussels eaten in late summer, when they first start coming to market, taste much better in late autumn and through the winter.
I love a Moules Marinières (with Lovage), of course, and I will be having several bowlfuls over the next couple of months I am confident (though my lovage plant is less so!). But there are some lovely ways of enjoying mussels in a close-to-home and wintery style and the combination of mussels and seasonal leeks is a long-established success story. And that story only gets more successful with the participation of cider to create the cooking liquor... and, now I confess, finished with cream. Well, 'tis the season to be jolly (read indulgent)!
The fact of the matter is that both mussels and leeks marry well with a lick of cream and so does a cider sauce, and the recipe that most caught my eye is one entitled "Porthilly mussels with leeks, cider and clotted cream", by Emily Scott. Rather than my celebration of my (virtual) return to Britain, hers is a celebration specifically of Cornwall... and I now have her restaurant on my hit-list of eating venues for when I next visit my friends in Cornwall. Clotted cream, being rather hard to source outside of the south-west, I have simply substituted with readily-available double cream and used the mussels that come to the farmers' markets at this time of year. The result is quite delicious.
As so often, when I propose a dish cooked with cider, I am inclined to suggest it be served with a glass of the same cider, and I do so here. But I do rather think you should have some crusty bread to hand for this one, and why not a bowl of chips?
You can use any cider for this dish but I'd hazard against using anything too sweet as the mussels contain enough sweetness to be getting on with, at least in my view. The quantity of salt will depend on the nature of the mussels but, with the cream (and you don't absolutely have to include it), a good dose of freshly ground black pepper will make all the difference.
This recipe serves four as a starter but can be made into a main meal for two by increasing the quantity of mussels to 750g and the quantity of leek to 100g. Use 200ml cider and serve the dish with chips (or potato wedges), a salad and some bread.
Mussels with Leeks and Cider
Ingredients (Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course - see recipe intro)
500g mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
20g unsalted butter
25g chopped shallot (or onion)
75g leek, washed, halved lengthways and finely sliced
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp double cream, at room temperature
1½ tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: A sprig of thyme and a fresh bay leaf
In a large saucepan melt the butter and sweat the shallot, leek and garlic, and the thyme sprig and bay leaf if using, for 5 mins over a medium-low heat. Pour in the cider, cover the pan and increase the heat so that the liquid comes to the boil.
Tip in the mussels, cover the pan and give it a shake. Cook the mussels for 2-3 mins over a high heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until they open. Using a slotted spoon, divide the mussels between serving bowls.
Boil the cooking liquid for 2-3 mins to reduce by about half. Off the heat, stir in the cream and parsley, season and pour over the mussels. Serve straight away.
"Moules Marinières (with Lovage)", Bute Street Seafoodie
"Porthilly mussels with leeks, cider and clotted cream", Emily Scott, greatbritishchefs.com, accessed 6 December 2021