Ask Peter: Cooking with marinated mussels
I like mussels and often buy marinated ones in a pottle of water to snack on. I would like to cook them in dishes but how do they perform and what type of dishes are they best with?
Thanks, Terry Wood
It’s great that you’re enjoying the delicious mussels we’re lucky enough to have in New Zealand thanks to our clean waters, but you should also cook them yourself as they’re really easy to prepare. However, I take your point that you like to snack on them and you’re not likely to always have a pot and hob at hand as you whisk around your busy day.
I must admit to a love of tinned smoked mussels, which I used to feast on in my late teens. For smoked mussels you can’t go too wrong blitzing them in a food processor with cream cheese, a few snipped chives and sweet chilli sauce to make a delicious dip to have with corn chips or crostini (and a glass of pinot gris) or to be spread over toasted sourdough topped with thinly sliced tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon juice. For the record, smoked oysters work just as well.
The thing with pre-cooked mussels is that they won’t have the loose texture and soft chewiness of a freshly steamed mussel. They’ll be fairly firm and “tight’’ and if they’re mature greenshells they’ll be quite ginormous. This doesn’t mean they won’t be delicious, because they should still be, but as you seem to suspect with your question, they are a different beast to the freshly cooked mussel.
To make a lovely marinated salad, drain the mussels and slice about ½ cm thick. Toss with equal amounts of white fish fillets, also sliced ½ cm thick (hapuka, snapper, terakihi all work well). For every 500g of fish and mussels add 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. Leave to marinate in the fridge for 1-3 hours then drain off the liquid. Add the juice of another lemon (or 1½ limes), 200ml coconut milk, a handful of chopped herbs (coriander, mint, basil or tarragon and parsley), 1 tablespoon rinsed and roughly chopped capers, 12 cherry tomatoes quartered and 1 celery stalk thinly sliced. Taste for seasoning (some pounded fresh red chilli always helps) and serve chilled with croutons.
To make mussel fritters with 1½ cups of drained mussels, roughly chopped. Mix with 2 eggs, 2 cloves grated garlic, 3 spring onions, thinly sliced and 2 tablespoons yoghurt. Sieve ½ cup self-raising flour with 2 tablespoons polenta and mix this in, making sure you have no lumps. Leave to settle for 20 minutes, then give a good mix and fry dessertspoonfuls in a mixture of sizzling butter and olive oil until golden. Carefully flip over and fry until golden on the other side. Serve these warm with creme fraiche dolloped on top and either a chilli sauce or tamarillo chutney.
You can also make a good pasta dish for four. Caramelise 2 red onions, ½ chopped red chilli and 4 cloves sliced garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 6 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 400g chopped canned tomatoes), 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves and a glass of white wine (or tomato juice), then bring to the boil and simmer with a lid on for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups mussels, roughly chopped and 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (or salt to taste). Once heated through, mix in 2 thinly sliced spring onions and the grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon. Toss with cooked pasta (allow around 90g dried pasta weight per person) and 2 cups blanched, chopped, broccoli florets. Even though the purists say never to serve cheese with seafood pasta, I disagree. Dredge the pasta with loads of coarsely grated parmesan and eat it while piping hot.
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