Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

23.8.04

Plump orange mussels in garlic and white wine with a touch of chili. Bougainvillea optional.

One Friday lunchtime in summer, many years ago, I sat at an outdoor table with work friends, eating one of the most memorable meals I've ever had - mussels in white wine with garlic and chili.

It was a hot day and the 'beergarden' was shaded by masses of bougainvillea growing over timber beams. We sat in the dappled shade with ice-cold beers. The mussels were served in large bowls of clear glass - giving you plenty of room to manoevre the shellfish. On the side was another bowl for the shells, while a third bowl contained water for rinsing the fingers. A basket contained thick slices of fresh, crusty bread. It was quite a crowded table as I remember.

After plucking the plump, delicious mussels - flecked with garlic and parsley - out of their shells, you dunk the bread into the salty, garlicky juices. I can't think of a nicer meal right now.

Mussels from Portarlington were in at the market on Saturday, so I bought a bag - about a kilogram. (Portarlington is a sleepy fishing village on the Bellarine Peninsula, most famous for its caravanning retirees and golf course. And, of course, the mussels - big, orange, sweet. When the boats come in you can go onto the pier and buy them direct from the fishermen.)

The hardest part about cooking mussels is debearding them, which is simply removing the seaweed with which they attach themselves to their colony. But then that's on a par with peeling potatoes so it's not hard at all.

Chop seven or eight cloves of garlic finely. Chop a handful of parsley finely. Warm some oil in a large pot, toss in the garlic, add about half a litre of white wine (careful! don't splash!), half a chopped chili, a dash of pepper and the parsley. Crank up the heat and when it approaches boiling point, tip your mussels in. Lid the pot.

After a few minutes they will open. A minute or so more and they're ready! Make sure you have everything else prepared because they should be served immediately.

Serve in large bowls on an old wooden table set under bougainvillea, grapevines or wisteria in dappled sunlight. Drink ice-cold beer. Soak all the delicious juices up with crusty, fresh bread. Fall asleep in a deck chair afterwards.

(It's still winter here so I just imagined the last paragraph. We ate at the table watching the Olympics and I drank wine, not beer!)





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