Mussels with Breton cider

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I just had a holiday in Brittany where by the end of my 10-day stay, salted butter was pumping through my veins. The Bretons make the BEST butter. I did feel I would explode if I ate any more French bread. Or cream/cheese/pastries. Dear Gawd, by the last-but-one day, I went into a sort of panic, running from one boulangerie to the next, trying to shoehorn another treat into my face. I feared my jeans would never fit again, but didn’t care. Isn’t that always the way with holidays? You start off saying ‘Ok, I’m going to be reasonable – only one bottle of wine per meal’, and then as the days go by, you just enter an altered state, the need to try everything outweighing any kind of law of physics, eating and drinking around the clock. Shameful!

So here’s a lovely recipe I made during our stay with fresh mussels and Breton cider. It’s totally easy, not to mention good value, as mussels don’t cost the earth. You MUST have some crusty bread to mop up the salty moreish juices at the end, which are made by the mussels releasing their salty liquor into the pan when they open their shells. If you can’t get Breton cider (don’t worry, it’s just a suggestion), just use a nice medium dry one. But not anything like Strongbow, which tastes of evil.

Serves 2

You will need:

1kg fresh mussels
Salted butter, 1 knob
4 shallots
1 large clove garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup medium dry cider
2 tablespoons thick creme fraiche (full fat)
Handful fresh flatleaf parsley

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Phwoar – just look at the size of that Gallic garlic:

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Prepare your mussels. If you’re not cooking them straight away, take them out of their packaging and pour them in a large bowl covered with a wet piece of kitchen towel – this way they can breathe when stored in the fridge (dead mussels are bad news and you’ll get a dodgy stomach). When you’re ready to cook, prepare the mussels by rinsing well in cold water, then removing any scraggy strands that might still be on them (de-bearding), throwing away any mussels that have broken shells or don’t shut firmly when you tap them (these ones are dead).

Get a large saucepan and fry the chopped shallots in the butter until soft. Add the thyme sprigs and the garlic and cook for one minute before adding the cider. Let it bubble away until reduced by half, then tip in the mussels. Put the lid on the saucepan and cook for two to three minutes, giving everything a stir around halfway through, until the mussel shells are open wide. If in doubt, give them an extra minute. Then add the creme fraiche and chopped parsley, stir until incorporated, remove the thyme sprigs, then serve immediately in large bowls accompanied by crusty bread and either more of the same cider or a crisp white wine.

Here’s that amazing Breton cider – Cidre Sorre ‘Au Breton Gourmand’:

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Bon appetit!

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