Google this dish and you’ll get a competing array of recipes claiming to be ‘the best’, ‘original’ or ‘the real sailors’ version’. Really, it’s up to you whether you use onions or shallots, add a leek or some lemon zest and finish with butter, cream or crème fraîche. The essential elements are a large pile of well-cleaned mussels and sturdy hunks of bread to mop up the juices.
2 kg mussels
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200ml dry white wine or cider
120 ml double cream or crème fraîche or more butter
4 tbsp fresh parsley
salt and pepper
crusty bread, to serve
Wash the mussels under plenty of cold, running water. Discard any open ones that won’t close when lightly squeezed. Pull out the tough, fibrous beards protruding from between the tightly closed shells and then knock off any barnacles with a large knife. Give the mussels another quick rinse to remove any little pieces of shell.
Soften the garlic and shallots in the butter, in a large pan big enough to take all the mussels – it should only be half full. Add the mussels and wine or cider, turn up the heat, then cover and steam them open in their own juices for 3-4 minutes. Give the pan a good shake every now and then. Discard any that steadfastly refuse to open.
Scoop the mussels out into a warm tureen or bowl and keep warm. Add the cream and half the chopped parsley to the liquid left in the pan and boil briefly. If you’re using butter rather than cream at this stage, whisk it in. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve with lots of crusty bread.