Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mussels with chilli and black beans

I don't cook much fish - not knowing enough about it I must admit I find it a bit daunting. It is mostly expensive and easily ruined and seems somehow delicate in a way that meat and vegetables aren't. That's without even going into ethical questions about overfishing and the depletion of marine life or the pointlessness of bothering with something as disgusting as the flaccid flesh of farmed salmon.

But I have cooked mussels for years, partly because they are cheap and taste of the sea, partly because they are beautiful when cooked with their orange tongue of flesh nestling in shiny black shells swimming in a final bath of heady liquid. They are very quick to cook once they have been cleaned and always make for a spectacular presentation. I find it cheering the way they are always messy and sensual to eat - there is an elegance to using one pair of shells to scoop out the flesh of another and spoon up the juices while at the same time ending up to your elbows in it.

Continuing the week's themes of new recipes and liberal use of Chinesey flavours this was a good dish to eat - but not actually great. I probably won't make it again as is but I will investigate further and find something closer to a perfect marriage of sea and sour black beans and the prickling heat of chilli. Till then it is one worth trying.

Mussels with Chilli and Black Beans

1 kg/2-3 lbs mussels, cleaned and debearded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 jalapeno chillis, chopped (or thai birds eye chillis)
1 tablespoon fermented black beans
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup Thai holy basil, finely chopped
1 bunch garlic chives, chopped
salt, pepper to taste
2 limes, halved

Heat oil in a large wok or pot, add garlic, ginger, chillies and black beans and heat until softened, 2 minutes. Add wine and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add mussels, cover and cook for 5 minutes, rattling the pan once or twice until mussels open. Add tomatoes, fish sauce, basil, and garlic chives and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide between bowls, squeeze half lime over each and serve. Don't forget a big bowl for the table to collect the empty shells.

This needs nothing more than crusty bread and a spoon for the juices.

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