Tag Archive for: mussels

One Mangetout at a Time

25 mussels

I think we all know how I felt about Jamie’s comments about poor people in Britain, but just before I fell asleep, I panicked and jolted awake in horror. What if he was right and me writing off Sicilian peasant cuisine in south west London was short sighted? After all, my mantra about food poverty is that there is no one size fits all answer to such a complex problem and there was me, who does have a market just up the road ignoring the advice.

Luckily it was Wednesday ,when any batch cooking from the weekend tends to have run out, since I have a rule to only eat 2 portions of anything and freeze the rest so I don’t put myself off my staples and keep food enjoyable. I was also feeling well enough to get out of the house before half day closing in Brixton market to buy mussels, cherry tomatoes, pasta and those mangetout that attracted so much attention.

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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.


Nose to Tail at St John…

The restaurant fairy paid me a visit last night and took me to St John, home of nose to tail eating, and the place I have most wanted to eat at in London for years. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a little bit wary of the knobbly bobbly wobbly bits of the beast as they require more cooking skill than I feel I have, so I have always wanted the chance to try the weird and wonderful, but well cooked. And I wasn’t disappointed!
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Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, Brixton

Times are a-changing for the 1930s covered market in Brixton formerly known as Granville Arcade. Newly listed to prevent demolition, it has been re-named Brixton Village and is taking on a new lease of life thanks to a mixture of recently opened vintage stores, galleries and pop-up shops and the long established fishmongers and butchery stalls and stores selling food and goods from all over the world. Accompanying these retail outlets are some wonderful places to eat and drink, both new and old…

One of the newer arrivals is Etta’s Seafood Kitchen on 6th Avenue. Immediately welcoming with its purple and pink frontage and tables outside, you step inside to a low key environment with a hotch-potch of tables and some good music playing. The menu is simple, but effective, listing a variety of mains, starters and a great kids’ selection along with fresh juices and sides.

Short and sweet

Etta’s offers a mix of fresh and cooked seafood with both a traditional and Carribean feel with a reasonably priced oyster plate, fish curries or a seafood linguine all sounding enticing. However since M and I had already sneaked a quick slice of pizza at The Agile Rabbit we weren’t just as hungry as we might have been for pasta or rice, and decided to go for a mussel pot each and a portion of the crab fritters to share. Our choice was also influenced by the excellent prices with the mussel pot costing a fiver…

Our drinks arrived quickly and my mango and guava juice was tasty, but I was massively distracted though by the crab fritters coming to the table in style. Freshly fried billowing pillows of golden crabbiness on a lovely rectangular plate and an egg cup of sweet chilli sauce, these looked sensational. And they tasted as good as they looked. Light crunchy outers with soft sweet crab filled middles spiked with fresh chilli and coriander in the batter, they were extremely moreish. I skipped the sweet chilli sauce as I’m not a big fan of it, but the fritters had excellent flavours on their own. We were also impressed by the size of the portion for a mere £3.50.

Crab fritters

The mussels appeared at the table steaming hot and promptly and were again a good sized portion. I love mussels, but find that quite often these days they lack much flavour apart from a brineyness so I was trepidatious. No need, these little babies were sweet and tasty with a gorgeous cooking liquor infused with a hint of curry, fresh coriander and lots of garlic. We abandoned much semblance of table manners and devoured our mountain of mussels with our hands. Despite the finger bowl provided, we created a pile of napkins as tall as that of the mussel shells…

One partly eaten portion of mussels…

We didn’t have a single unopened mussel between us and they were beautifully clean and grit free apart from one solitary barnacle that confirmed these weren’t frozen and thawed bi-valves, but fabulously fresh specimens from a market that specialises in fish! We cleared our plates with gusto and my only complaint was that there was nothing to soak up the cooking juices. I managed to resist the urge to drink them out of the dish and sat back feeling very satisfied.

The cafe around us was a good level of busy for a Tuesday lunchtime with the outside tables playing host to several people just calling in for a quick plate of fresh oysters, as well as those tucking into the lovely looking linguine on their lunchbreak. We didn’t feel rushed to eat and leave, but I can imagine it is a fight to get a table here on a Saturday lunchtime!

Our bill came to a mere £16.50 between two for two mains, a shared starter and drinks. All the food is freshly prepared by Etta herself who chatted away to us as we paid, telling us how her kids help out with the cooking and waiting and that all the ingredients are super-fresh and from the local market where possible. Our mussels though (and much of the fish and seafood) came from Billingsgate rather than the local fishmongers which is fine by me as they were such good quality!

Our lunch genuinely felt like sitting in someone’s kitchen for good food and good feelings, but without any sense of it being contrived or cute. This is good home cooking with a serious does of Brixton charm and style. I love seafood and am tickled pink to discover somewhere close to home to indulge my cravings without taking out a mortgage to pay for it. I can’t wait to go back and try the fish curry and the linguine next…in fact, i’ll even skip the pizza to make sure I can do them justice!