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.
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.