Seems to have been all seafood lately, or maybe I just haven’t written about the less interesting dinners; baked beans on toast, etc. (Having said that, if you add scrambled eggs flecked with chopped prosciutto or pancetta, sliced warmed avocado, grilled mushrooms and a grilled leek sausage, you have a passable supper. Interestingly, people seem to be eating this kind of thing in the morning in cafes all over town, but I can’t; just like I could never face up to the British morning fare of kippers before midday.)
Nevertheless, Easter week is a good time to be eating seafood. I went into the fish shop in Sydney Road to buy some clams to make pasta vongole, but came out with a large bag of mussels instead, due to $5.99 compared to $25.99 per kilogram. I also bought some flathead tails because they are delicious and the children are not yet eating mussels. (However, William did ask me if I picked them off the pier from which they had been diving. I replied no, but not far away; just across the bay in Portarlington.)
The hardest part about this dish is chopping the garlic. It requires at least six and possibly more garlic cloves chopped into tiny dice. The paper-like peel gets stuck to my fingers and then floats all over the room like lint when I try to remove it. However the result is vastly better than the garlic that comes in jars.
Having done that, the rest is easy. Put the garlic in a large boiler, add some olive oil, warm the garlic through and then tip in half a bottle of white wine. Pour some of the rest of the wine into a large glass and set it to hand where it will not be knocked over. I always put mine on the mantelpiece over the stove where no-one else can reach it.
Turn up the heat under the boiler. When it hits the boil, tip in one kilogram of mussels, straight out of the bag. (The last few lots have been so clean I haven’t even bothered de-bearding them; i.e., removing the wisps of thread with which they attach themselves to their pier. If you do, pull the threads towards the closest hinge to avoid ripping out some of the body of the mussel.) Add a little chopped fresh chilli for heat, or some cracked peppercorns and a handful of finely chopped parsley or coriander.
Once the fluid reaches the boil again, the mussels will start opening and adding their brine to the fluid, so never salt this dish. Turn the pot down to a medium simmer, and off after two or three minutes. The mussels should be plump and orange and the boiling action should have deposited some of the garlic into the shells.
Serve in large bowls with crusty bread for dipping into the salty, garlicky liquor (very fresh Turkish bread is ideal), and damp hand towels. It’s messy eating but ideal for dining outside where you can just fling the shells straight onto the garden beds. Just kidding. (Although all of mine do go into the compost and ultimately end up in the garden. You’re supposed to smash them first but I don’t bother.) I had added little cubes of the aformentioned flathead tails, leftover from the children's dinner to the mixture, and they were fat and delicious.
Place empty dishes at hand for depositing the empty shells into large cairn-like structures. Award points for the best structure; drink cold beer; discuss the warm weather we are having: 30 degrees celsius on Good Friday. Have we had that before? Well, yes, we have. I remember Easter and the first round of football and the Stawell Gift always being hot.
Do you throw out the unopened mussels? I open the ones that don’t open by themselves, and I have never had a bad one.