I recall about 7-8 years ago, my Hubby and I went to a Belgian Beer Bar in Christchurch, New Zealand to drown our sorrows after a botched exam attempt (on Hubby’s behalf).  We were a tad shellshocked, having to contemplate going through the whole preparation for the exam again for another 6 months and the sacrifices Hubby would have to make regarding the kids etc etc.  We sat down, took a vague look at the food menu and a really long hard look at the beer menu and told the waiter to bring us 2 pots of mussels and the largest beer on the menu.  I don’t recall the beer.  I recall the amazing oceany freshness of the 2 kilos of mussels, drenched in white wine, bacon and herbs and the crusty bread I dipped in all those sensational juices.  We had liquid running down our chins, parsley in our teeth and were emitting groans of pure delight.  It is suffice to say that every time I eat Mussels, I do so with a bittersweet fondness that takes me back to a time that is not one of my best memories but actually is one of my best memories…….. can there be such a thing?

Prep time:   15 Minutes        Cooking time:    15 Minutes        $  Low Budget

Serves 2

Olive oil for frying

20gm of butter, for frying

1 kg of mussels, rinsed and debearded*

1 leek, ends trimmed, halved & sliced

6 slices of pancetta, chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

500ml of good quality apple cider

1 cup of fish or chicken stock

1/2 cup of pure cream

2 tbs of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tbs of finely chopped dill

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Crusty bread, dill sprigs and lemon wedges to serve

Heat a large deep sided pot and before adding any oil, fry the pancetta until golden, remove from the pan and set aside.   Add a good lug of olive oil and the butter,  allow the butter to melt and start to bubble before popping in the leek and garlic.  Fry for 4-5 minutes or until the leek has started soften, return the pancetta to the pot and add the lemon rind, lemon juice, cider and stock.  Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to really penetrate the liquid.

Pour in the cream and add two thirds of the parley and dill.  Mix to combine and then pop the mussels in the pot and cover with a tight fitting lid.  The mussels will only take 3-5 minutes to open.  To serve divide the mussels between two large serving bowls, pour over the liquid and sprinkle over the remaining herbs.  Serve with crusty bread, dill sprigs and lemon wedges.

*  Generally when you buy mussels these days they are already cleaned and debearded.  If not, just pull the give them a bit of a rinse and the beard should just pull away from the mussel shell.  Remember…..the general rule when eating mussels is that if it is open before it is cooked you should throw it away and if it doesn’t open after it is cooked, throw it away.  Not sure how much truth is in that but probably best not to risk it!