|garlic and guinness mussels|
And while I am in this curmudgeonly mood, since when has St Paddy’s Day been about food? Just recently, I have seen lots of news items, newsletters and blog postings about St Paddy’s Day meals? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the stories of the Irish. I really enjoy the blog posts where people explore their Irish heritage and culture. I have a bit of it myself (with a surname like Kelly, how could it be any different?) In my family, particularly when we lived abroad, feasts, festivals, and saints’ days were a fabulous excuse for a party, no matter what your point of origin. But what I don’t remember about March 17 was a day of feasting revolving around Irish-themed meals. To someone who has spent most of her life in England, I usually associate it with copious amounts of alcohol served by the bucket.
However, I like my food unadorned with whiskey and my booze unadulterated by food; the unrelenting greenness of St Paddy’s Day “oirishness” has me spluttering into my Guinness and scrabbling around for my rose-tinted glasses.
But my drinking days are behind me and the sort of riotous frivolities that I used to enjoy on Saint Patrick’s Day I will now leave to those who have age and energy on their side and a liver . . . so with this in mind I decided to think about which recipes I had that really reflected Ireland rather than a sort of Day-Glo Kelly Green Disneyfied theme park that seems to have saturated us.
Some months ago, I posted a recipe for a Beef and Ale (Guinness) stew which I can thoroughly recommend and if you start stewing it today, it will be perfect tomorrow. But to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day myself I thought I would go with something that brings back memories of my early childhood visits to the land of my grandparents. Ireland reminds of the sea and of fish. I had my very first Dover Sole in Ireland (aged eight, I was allowed to choose my own meal from the menu and I always liked to go for things with an interesting name . . . not always so successfully!) We had salmon freshly caught in the morning, we ate cooked seaweed and I had my first tantalising experience of the mussel, in all its blue-black oily shelled glory that made me a worshipper for life.
So to celebrate this most Irish of days, I give you garlicky mussels cooked in Guinness. Shellfish cooked with Guinness? Really? I was equally surprised when one of my friends dished this up as I had just assumed that the delicate flavour of the mussels would be overwhelmed by the strong flavours of the stout. And of course, yet again, I was wrong. (But you know, one of these days . . . just one of these days . . . I will be right!)
Anyway, the mussels did manage to hold their own and the cream combined beautifully with the Guinness, softening some of it's bitterness, yet bursting with flavour. This was a lovely supper, (and would make a good starter too) with all the juices soaked up with some excellent soda bread (and keeping that Irish vibe going but with hardly any green in sight!)
Skill level: Easy
1kg x fresh mussels, scrubbed, debearded and rinsed in cold water
1-2 x shallots, finely chopped
3 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
1½ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 x bay leaf
140ml single cream
1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (plus extra to serve)
lemon wedges, to serve
soda bread (for soaking up all the juices)
- Heat a large heavy-based saucepan or casserole over a medium heat.
- When the pan is hot, melt the butter and fry the shallots for about 3 minutes. Stir constantly and don't allow them to brown.
- Add the garlic and stir. Cook for a further minute.
- Add the mussels, thyme, bay leaf, cream and Guinness. Cover immediately. (The mussels will start to make a sizzling sound.)
- Cook and stir several times for anything from about 4 to 6 minutes or until the mussels have opened.
- Discard any mussels that do not open. (Really it is not worth it, you know what I'm saying!)
- Divide the mussels between 4 bowls.
- Check the broth for seasoning and then spoon the remaining broth over the mussels.
- Sprinkle over the chopped parsley and serve with soda bread and a wedge of lemon.