Gratin of Mussels in Garlic Butter
For me, mussels provide one of the most evocative flavours of the sea around – and at the lowest possible price. This gratin of mussels sizzling in their own juices and mingled with garlic butter is a truly sublime combination.
This recipe first appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine. Serves 6 as a starter or 3-4 as a light supper
First tip the mussels into a sinkful of cold water and, using a brush, give each one a scrub and pull off the little hairy beards. Discard any broken mussels and, if any are still open, give them a sharp tap with a knife to see if they close. If they don't respond and shut tightly, throw them away.
When all the mussels are clean, swirl them around in more cold water to get rid of any last remaining bits of sand or grit. Now pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C). Then heat the olive oil in a large, solid pan that will hold the mussels comfortably, add the shallot and cook it over a low heat for about 5 minutes, or until just soft.
Next add the wine, and when it just comes up to the boil, tip in the prepared mussels and put on a close-fitting lid. Now, keeping the heat at medium, cook the mussels for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice. After that, remove the lid and, using a draining spoon, lift the cooked, open mussels out of the pan. Reserve the cooking liquid containing the precious juice that flows from the mussels as they open, and throw away any mussels that are still closed.
Next, have ready a sieve lined with fine gauze, then strain the cooking liquid through it into a bowl, discarding the shallot. Now rinse out the pan, then return the liquid to it. Place the pan over a high heat and reduce the liquid down to about 2 tablespoons. This concentrates the lovely fresh sea flavour. Meanwhile pull away the top shells of the cooked mussels and discard them, then arrange the mussels in their half-shells on the baking sheet.
Next, in a basin combine the butter, garlic, lemon juice and chopped parsley together with the reduced mussel cooking liquid. Then season well with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Now put a blob of the butter mixture on to each mussel, place the baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until you hear the butter sizzling nicely. Serve them absolutely immediately on warm plates with lots of crusty baguette to dip into those wonderfully flavoured juices.