Shellfish. In particular mussels. There’s fewer foods which divide opinion as much or are looked upon with such trepidation by so many. Whether it be the belief they require so much knowledge, effort, skill or that they are a time bomb of tummy trouble waiting to happen so many people refuse to even think about so many of our native molluscs far less taste them.
But in fact they are the ultimate fast food. Yes you need a little effort beforehand to de-beard and check for dead ones, but then four minutes later you have one of the freshest, tastiest, healthiest and cheapest meals you could imagine. When doing my pop-up on Cafebarge I wanted as much as possible to remain true to the local community. Therefore wine wasn’t quite going to cut it. But beer is very much a local product with the wonderful Fyne Ales just a short drive up the loch. Their Sanda Blonde was a perfect partner beer for the mussels but you could also experiment with wheat beers, IPA’s and even porter if you wanted to push the boat out and be a little crazy. My rule of thumb from experiments would be, the more bitter the ale, the less you need as nobody wants the beautiful sweet salty liquor that always remains to be unpalatable.
Cockles and mussels in ale
Serves 2 but this is a rule of thumb dish. Trust your instinct.
1/2 shallot very finely diced
1 clove garlic
Bottle blonde ale
50ml double cream
Coriander or parsley finely chopped to serve
Clean and de-beard the shellfish, discarding all the dead ones.
In a heavyweight pan with a lid soften the shallot and garlic in the butter, you don’t want to brown it and it needs to be soft as you want all the sweetness to be released and no astringency left
Turn the heat up full and add the cockles and mussels with a good splash of ale and cover immediately. Cook for four minutes, giving a good shake after two. Don’t be tempted to keep looking, if you must look do so after 3 minutes and if the shells have all opened then good but I find 4 minutes generally optimum. The wonderful boozy steam being generated is cooking the shellfish, open up and it disappears.
Open the lid, make sure the shells look opened. Drizzle over the cream. Again I’d describe the measure as a glut, trust your instinct. Scatter over the coriander or parsley, it’s not just to look pretty, it adds flavour.
Divide between two bowls and serve with a big chunk of crusty bread each and the rest of the ale. A perfect taste of Loch Fyne.