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West African Inspired Mussels and Chips…

 

West African inspired mussels and chips

Much and all as I love summer, the months without an ‘R’ in curb my ability to eat shellfish as much as I’d like. So thank goodness for the humble mussel which can be eaten all year round. I love them in the summer as a light simple supper that doesn’t need much standing over a hot stove (normally because of the high temperature outside, but this year so it doesn’t cut into my watching TV under a blanket time…)

The French style is most common with mussels and although I love it, I wanted something a bit fresher and punchier.  Some fat scarlet tomatoes from O Talho caught my eye on the way back from Dagon’s and I’d just picked up some picture perfect red chillis from the Wing Tai Asian Supermarket. But as well as the warmth from the capsicums, I wanted some tingle and my mind went to the pod of alligator pepper a friend had gifted me after we shopped in the Village one Saturday.

Alligator pepper pod

Highly prized in West Africa, especially Nigeria where the Yoruba incorporate it into naming ceremonies for babies, this pepper comes in a dry pod that looks like an alligator’s back and has a warm bite of pepper mixed with a slight hint of cardamom. I’ve mainly seen recipes for it involving fish and tomatoes so I knew it was likely to work with my mussels. I have no idea how authentic this might be though…

West African Inspired Mussels and Chips: serves 2 comfortably

  • 1kg bag mussels
  • 1/2 pod alligator pepper
  • 2 banana shallots or small onion
  • two handfuls of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red chilli or 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 150ml water
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 4 sweet potatoes

First clean your mussels well. Pull the beards from them and discard any that are already open and that don’t close when tapped or that are broken. Leave them to soak in cold water to clean out any grit while you turn your attention elsewhere.

Heat the oven to 200℃ and then peel your sweet potatoes. I used orange fleshed ones from the supermarket. Cut them into chips, making sure that they are all roughly the same size and thickness so they cook evenly. Toss in a light coating of oil and then cook. I used a mesh tray like this which cuts the cooking time and washing up, but you are using an oven tray, they’ll take about 25 minutes.

About ten minutes before the chips are ready, finely dice your shallot and cook in a small amount of oil on a moderate heat until softened but not coloured. If using the chilli, cut finely and add to the shallot. Keep the seeds in if you want more heat. Then take the alligator pepper pod and scoop the seeds out and grind them in a pestle and mortar before adding to the shallot and chilli to cook out slightly. Cut your tomatoes in half and add to the pan. You don’t need any extra seasoning.

When the tomatoes start to collapse slightly round the edges, add in the cleaned wet mussels to the pan. Pour the water on top and put the lid on and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until the mussels have opened and the tomatoes are thickening the juices. Take off the heat and leave the lid on while you dish up the sweet potato fries on a separate plate. Then serve the steaming hot mussels in bowls with a good amount of the tomato rich liquor and then dig in.

The best way to eat mussels is to use the empty shell to pick the meat out of the next. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened and enjoy each flavoursome mouthful as the warmth of the chilli and alligator pepper builds a tingle on your lips and the pile of shells grows. Best eaten with a ice cold beer, a roll of kitchen paper and some non judgemental friends to hand!

 

This post first appeared over at Brixton Blog celebrating all our lovely local shops.

 

Orzo with palourde clams and cherry tomatoes

Orzo Vongole

Orzo with palourde clams and cherry tomatoes

As soon as the sun appears I immediately feel like eating more, but cooking less. It doesn’t feel especially appealing to be in my rather dark kitchen when the great outdoors feels so light and bright. I need food that won’t interfere with my late spring schedule of sitting on the patio with a G&T. It needs to be low maintenance, but not the stodge of those winter casseroles and soups that you can just leave to get on with it. It needs to feel fresh but be packed with flavour. It’s a tall order, but I felt my fishmonger* could point me in the right direction. And there nestled amongst the rather tempting bass and octopus and prawns, was the perfect solution. A bulging net of smooth shelled palourde clams beckoned to me

Clams are most closely associated with spaghetti and this sweet shellfish works perfectly with the tang of tomatoes and the solid base note of pasta. I wasn’t going to stray too far from this classic combination, but I wanted something one pot so there was the minimum of preparation and very little washing up. The packet of orzo I’d picked up in the pound shop was about to have its moment…
I put half a cup of the rice shaped pasta into my saute pan and added three times the amount of water and simmered it until the orzo had swollen in size and there was barely any water left. At this point I added in a teaspoon of bonito flakes and a quarter of a cup of water as a quick fish stock then adding in a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes and the washed clams. A quick season and a splash of vermouth and the lid went on, allowing everything to steam and infuse for about five minutes or until the clams are open and the tomatoes have collapsed in on themselves making a simple sauce.

The clams add so much flavour to the somewhat neutral orzo and the hints of bonito and vermouth make everything taste much more like you made an effort. There should be just enough liquid at the bottom of the pan to make sure you need a hunk of crusty bread to get the maximum effect from this dish. Scatter a bit of parsley over it all and tuck in with a fork and spoon and a napkin to hand. This is a get stuck in hand on kind of meal and it’s fabulous. 15 minutes maximum from start to finish and you’ve got a bowl just packed with flavour. This is a one pot wonder just as at home as a meal to impress friends or as quick post work dinner when you can’t face chopping and stirring. Either way it only needs a large glass of chilled white wine to make it complete!

*I always go to Dagon’s in Granville Arcade/Brixton Village for fish. They are good quality, have a wide selection, are reasonably priced and super friendly. Treasure them.

Wham Bam, Thank you Razor Clam…

Mister North and I took a family holiday to Barcelona with our mum a few years ago to celebrate my thirtieth birthday and despite having a wobble about my new decade, I managed to mark the day in style with copious amounts of cava and some stunning food. The discovery of the weekend were razor clams at lunch at La Boqueria. Looking like old fashioned cutthroat razors, the only danger we were in from these handsome molluscs was overeating! Steamed until tender, they are soft, juicy and utterly delicious with chorizo. I lost count of how many times we ordered them, so imagine my glee when I found a bundle of these beauties in Brixton Market this week…
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A Crab Hand…

Some of my happiest childhood memories involve trying to avoid the pincers of crabs, both on long lazy fishing trips in Norway with a bit of string and some bait and a beloved plastic toy one that I used to attack my Sindy dolls with when playing Killer Sea Creatures of an afternoon. However, I don’t have any great memories of cooking or eating crabs apart from burning myself on a soft shell number at Little Lamb last year, so when a crustacean caught my eye in Brixton Village at the weekend, I decided I had to rectify that and kill my own dinner for the first time.
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