Saturday, January 19, 2019

Light Mussel Chowder – thanks Neptune !

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When I was about sixteen, I was in a restaurant with my parents, politely doing battle with a bowl of mussels - and losing. A large party of foreign tourists (Dutch, I think) was just leaving, when one of the men stopped at our table. “Allow me,” he said, taking the fork from my surprised fingers. He replaced it with one of my discarded mussel shells, “This is a gift from Neptune,” he explained, and demonstrated that I should use it, tweezer-like, to tug the mussel from its shell. Much easier! Thank you, rather cheeky but kind stranger. It’s how I’ve tackled this shellfish ever after.

I love the briny flavour of mussels, so redolent of the seaside. They are at their best over the winter months and are usually relatively cheap as shellfish go. They are highly perishable so eat them as soon as you can after purchase, or within 24 hours.
I adore them a la Marinière with frites of course, and lots of French bread to mop up the precious juices. Lately though, this is how I’ve been cooking them:
For 4 servings redolent of the seaside you will need...
100mls dry cider (or dry white wine)
100mls water
1kg mussels, rinsed several times in cold water to remove excess grit and sand 

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of parsley stems, very finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled of stringy bits, and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, very finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1cm dice
approximately 250mls chicken stock
a pinch of saffron* soaked in 2 tablespoons of hot water for at least 20 minutes
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon corn flour dissolved in 1 tablespoon of cold water 

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaf 


1                    First prepare the mussels: Discard any with broken shells and any open mussels that fail to close when rapped sharply. Mussels use a fibrous tangle of threads (or beard) to anchor themselves. Tug sharply on the beard in the direction of the hinge (the narrow part of the shell) to remove it. For this dish, I don’t bother removing any barnacles that cling to the shells as I’m going to discard them once the mussels are cooked.
2                    Pour the cider (or wine) and water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. When the liquid is boiling, tip in the mussels and cover with a lid. Boil rapidly, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth over the heat so that the fragrant steam cooks the mussels evenly. It will take 3 or 4 minutes for the mussels to cook. The shells will open when they are done.
3                    Remove from the heat and tip into a colander over a bowl to catch the juices. Remove the mussels from their shells (using ‘Neptune’s tweezers’) and set aside. Strain the juices into a 1 litre measuring jug to remove any bits of sand or grit (I usually get about 500mls of liquid from this quantity of mussels). Add enough chicken stock to make the liquid up to 750mls.
4                    Rinse the saucepan clean and place it back on the hob over a medium heat. Heat the olive oil then add the parsley stems, celery, and onion and cook without colouring until the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 – 7 minutes).
5                    Add the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the potato. Pour in the mussel juices, strain the golden liquid from the saffron into the pan, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 12 minutes or until you can easily crush a potato cube with the back of a fork. Stir in the corn flour and cook for a minute or so until the soup thickens slightly. (If you want a thicker chowder, lightly crush the potato cubes with a potato masher).
6                    Add the mussel meat and chopped parsley leaf to the chowder and allow to heat through for a minute or so. Taste and add a little black pepper. I don’t add salt. The chowder is usually salty enough from the mussels. Serve with this quick and easy fresh soda bread. 

Note: The saffron doesn’t make much difference to the flavour but improves the look of the dish no end, so put it in if you have it.
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  1. Hester, Mussel Chowder is a food that I grew up with and we always used the first empty mussel shell instead of a fork to eat the remaining mussels on our plate. So, your blog post really made me smile and your recipe looks wonderful! A lot of peolpe shy away from preparing mussels but they should not because they are delicious and healthy! Looking at your wonderful pictures and instructions should make it easy to prepare them in a delicious way!
    Have a great weekend!

  2. I am a HUGE chowder fan, I love taking a basic chowder and just completely giving it my own twist. I've never tried mussel chowder before, thanks for the inspiration!

    Happy Valley Chow

  3. I'm dying for some chowder now, need to try it :)

    Choc Chip Uru

  4. A la mariniere with French bread, your version with fresh soda. I think the Irish have won. I love the fishy stock you get out of mussels, it's my favourite base to create a sauce for fish from.

  5. That shot of those saffron strands is magical! And your soup is beautiful Hester! AND I love the story... those formative childhood moments are so fun to remember when they resurface! HUGS!

  6. I make clam, scallop and shrimp chowder but your mussel chowder sounds great. This will put a smile on my husband's face...he loves mussels.

  7. I've never eaten nor even heard of mussel chowder, but it looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! I love, love mussels!

  8. I love the freshness of this chowder - not to mention the fact that it's on the lighter side. I've yet to tackle mussles. I see them in the store, but have never been brave enough to give them a try.

  9. @ Lizzy - well, it started out in my head as New England Clam Chowder but then it took a wrong turn and got completely lost :)

    @ Kristi - I did think of you when I decided to go light on this. The tub of cream in the fridge was rather tempting, but you know, I think I prefer this skinny version.

  10. I'm obsessed with mussel's so this recipe totally appeals to me! YUM!

  11. I love mussels! Have you ever had them deep fried with some garlic sauce? They are soo good!

    Your chowder will be great on a cold winter day.

  12. Beautiful color chowder Hester! I love the way you chop parsley stems - I love to cut into thin slices like how you do it, so it caught my attention. :) I don't have mussel but hoping to make some kind of chowder tomorrow - oh I'm so inspired right now! :)

  13. I love chowder as these keep the body warm on cold days. Your chowder recipe is delish and I would love to try it your way. Thanks!

  14. Nothing better than mopping up the juice with fresh crusty bread!

  15. I love how you use cider - never thought of using that with mussels. Great idea, Hester! Yep, with you on the lesson of mussel shells as tweezers - it's my kids who show me up with Belgian blood and all. It's so cool and less washing up!
    Tasty looking dish you have here, my friend.

  16. Chewy and meaty texture of mussel is what I love. And this chowder that you cooked looks very special. I hope you are having a wonderful week, Hester! :)

  17. What a great story. He was definitely cheeky but without him you might still be strggling!

  18. It should have been quite a shock to have a complete stranger coming up to the table like that :)
    I have never tried chowder before, but yours looks really lovely. Have a nice weekend :)


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