Tuesday, 31 January 2017
Smoked mussels with king cabbage, purple potatoes, sea rosemary and blood orange
One the most important lessons that I have learned in food is to cook seasonally. It is so effortlessly easy to plan new dishes by simply picking and choosing ingredients that grow together and are harvested at the same time. I used to be a slave to supermarket convenience, where shelves are packed with seemingly evergreen produce, and believed that seasonality was a pompous and irrelevant trend. But it’s all in the taste; a locally-grown asparagus spear in May is massively superior to a bendy Peruvian counterpart in the autumn. Squashy summer tomatoes are packed with sweetness, having not travelled under the duress of taste-zapping refrigeration. Shellfish are much fitter and healthier when the seas are cold. Even better is that most seasonal ingredients combine beautifully, with dishes becoming mere simple assemblies on a plate, each ingredient singing in harmony. It’s dead easy to work out what’s in season right now, ask your local greengrocer, fishmonger or butcher, or there’s a ton of information online.
This dish is wintry produce at its best. January king cabbages always bring a smile to my face with their sprawling, messy leaves; like a teenager’s fringe splattered with greens, purples and blues. This year’s blood oranges have just arrived too, along with beautiful sweet Sicilian lemons. A plate of shredded cabbage dressed with these, a pinch of salt and some good oil would be enough, but I decided to go a step further with the inclusion of mussels.
Mussels are still cheap as chips, and one of the best ways of feeding a crowd on a budget. Cooked simply and classically with white wine and garlic and served with chunks of French stick, I’d defy anyone not to be happy. A touch of smoke lends itself well to their strong molluscy flavour, so I decided that a bit of DIY smoking was in order. I can definitely recommend having a go yourself, it’s easy to set up and great fun experimenting with different ingredients. So far I’ve used it with meat, fish and cheeses, but I’d like to expand to vegetables too. I reckon broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes would all work well.
Sea rosemary was a bit of an impulse purchase after I spied a punnet sitting tucked away on a greengrocer’s shelf. Having never cooked with it before I was keen to have a try and give it a go. Tasting a little like samphire, its acts as a seasoning for the potatoes, giving the dish much more of a seaside feel. Never fear if you can’t find it, parsley, tarragon, chervil or samphire will all work a treat.
For the smoked mussels:
3 handfuls of large, live mussels, debearded
1 large handful of hay or straw
The peeled zest of 1 blood orange
For the cabbage:
1 large wedge of January King or Savoy cabbage, cut into rough ribbons
For the purple potatoes:
1 large handful of small purple or violette potatoes
1 handful of sea rosemary, leaves picked
For the dressing:
2 blood oranges
1 large unwaxed lemon
4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 small bulb of fennel, finely sliced with a vegetable peeler
The fronds from the fennel
Wash the potatoes and pop them into a saucepan with a good pinch of salt. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then peel away the skins with the help of a sharp knife. Transfer the peeled potatoes to a bowl and add the sea rosemary leaves.
Make the blood orange dressing by squeezing the citrus juice into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt, then whisk in the olive oil. Pour 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing over the warm, peeled potatoes and stir to coat. Put the rest aside for use later.
Bring a large saucepan up to a high heat. Tip in the mussels and a splash of water and cover with a lid. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until all of the mussels have opened. Transfer to a bowl and pick the meat out of the majority, leaving a few in their shells. Pour the liquor from the mussels back into a saucepan.
Top up the mussel cooking liquor with about a cup of water and bring back to the boil. Blanch the king cabbage for 1-2 minutes, until al dente. Drain and transfer to a bowl, then toss with a tablespoon of the blood orange dressing.
Line a large saucepan with foil, and arrange the hay and peel to one side. Tear off a smaller piece of foil, and use this to hold the mussel meat so that it forms one layer. Place this sheet to the vacant side of the pan (it’s ok if it overlaps the hay a little). Using a match or blowtorch in a well-ventilated area, set fire to the straw and immediately cover with a lid. Allow to smoke for 5 minutes. Very carefully remove the smoked mussels, making sure that the hay is properly extinguished.
To plate up, arrange the mussels, potatoes and cabbage leaves onto a plate, making sure to include the sea rosemary. Top with the fennel shavings and fronds. Finish with an extra splash of the dressing and serve.