I am a big fan of mussels, yet, partly because I’m lazy and partly because the thought scared me a little bit, I must admit that I had never actually cooked them at home. Recently, however, a friend who writes an excellent website called Mango Menus and also runs an online meat and seafood delivery platform called MM Fresh offered me some large greenshell mussels from New Zealand, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to cook them for the first time. The mussels come live in a special breathable vacuum pack, so you can keep them in the fridge for a couple of days.
When deciding how to cook my mussels, I came across a few recipes for seafood tagine. My parents gave me a beautiful Le Creuset tagine pot for my birthday last year and, other than using the base as a taco press, I hadn’t yet got round to cooking with it – so now was my chance. I ended up collating a few recipes together and making my own. Since we usually try to eat healthily at home, I decided to replace actual couscous with cauliflower ‘couscous’, also blending a couple of recipes for this.
Apparently one of the most important steps when cooking mussels is making sure to clean them properly. MM Fresh’s mussels come pretty clean already, but in case you aren’t as lucky, you have to wash them in a lot of cold water, again and again, making sure to scrub off any sandy bits. If you come across any open shells, give them a little tap to see if they close up again; if not, they’re dead, so discard them. When you’re just about to ready to cook them, the last thing to do is to remove the beard (I actually had no idea that mussels had beards!) by pulling towards the hinge. This needs to be done just before you cook them, as, like Samson, they can die pretty quickly without their beards.
Once you get over that initial fear of cooking mussels, it’s actually a lot easier than it seems, and they cook very quickly in just about 10 minutes, or until they open. If any don’t open up on their own, also discard these.
For the tagine:
Around 800g fresh live mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (see note above)
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam massala
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp paprika
1 pinch saffron threads
1 bunch fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
For the ‘couscous’:
1 small cauliflower, chopped into florets, removing the hard stalk
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp Harissa spice blend
½ tsp turmeric
Kalamata olives, stones removed and roughly chopped
A handful of raisins
A handful of cashew nuts
A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
1. In a tagine, or a heavy bottomed pan, cook the garlic and the onion over a medium heat with some olive oil until nicely browned.
2. Add the chilli, turn down the heat and put the lid on. Leave to cook for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes, the spices and the parsley, put the lid back on and cook for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the ‘couscous’ by pulsing florets of cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like couscous.
5. In a pan, fry the onion and garlic until lightly brown, then add the cauliflower to the pan together with the vegetable stock, the harissa and the turmeric and turn the heat right down, stirring regularly.
6. Check the seasoning of the tagine and add salt and pepper if needed. Add 1 cup of water, stir well and then add the mussels and cook with the lid on for 10 minutes, or until the mussels open. If any do not open on their own, then discard these.
7. After 10 minutes, turn the heat off the pan with the cauliflower and stir through all the remaining ingredients. Serve alongside the mussel tagine.
p.s. The next morning I made a delicious breakfast with the leftovers by stirring in an egg and some coconut flour into the ‘couscous’ to form a loose patty, which I then pan-fried, topped with some warmed up leftover tagine (minus the mussels, which we finished the night before) and a poached egg. Check out the photo I put on Instagram here.