This is last night’s dinner, and the truth is I didn’t want to share the recipe with you. It’s so good I wanted to hoard it for the hypothetical cookbook I’m not writing but rather have been procrastinating for 3 years. Despite having every opportunity to do so, I simply don’t. I rationalized not doing it by saying I wanted to travel; that I didn’t want to rush into it like many bloggers do and end up writing something mediocre or gimmicky that I wasn’t proud of; that I needed time to know myself as a cook, photographer, and writer. And that was all true. Was. I think it’s time I let good enough be good enough and just go for it. If I’m not ready by now, I never will be. Still, I just couldn’t keep these beer steamed mussels to myself. And the photos here are an exercise in simply good enough as I learn to navigate blogging, working, retreats, and full time mothering all at the same time.
These photos were shot and styled in about 15 minutes with the light absolutely dying on an ISO that was far too high while I was wearing an alternately sleeping/nursing/crying baby in a Solly wrap, but the bottom line is I want to share more recipes here. And write a cookbook at the same time. That’s going to mean less photos. I’ll still do the whole 9 yards recipe shoots with process shots and the narrative of the dish because I enjoy that, but I’m going to focus more on shooting finished dishes and letting that be that. Try to up my food styling game. I think a lot of us bloggers get mired in a pile of props, and the food styling ends up playing second fiddle. I don’t want to do that anymore, though my food styling will likely always be “rustic” (read: messy). Doing less, strangely, takes a lot of self-control. I’m verbose visually and verbally. Yet another of many flaws.
So about this dish: PEI mussels are braised in a traditional farmhouse ale, a saison—in this case Saison Dupont—along with anise scented fennel (a nod to the classic Pernod in mussels), preserved lemon (you can find my recipe for preserved lemons here!), and a hint of saffron. And my secret weapon: humble celery & it’s tender leaves. Celery is highly underrated, but I digress. The resultant broth is fragrant, bright, and positively addictive when sopped up with toasted or grilled sourdough bread. This recipe is quick, easy, and one-pot without sacrificing any sophistication. If you want to be really classic, you can fry up some pomme frites, but I prefer bread.
A little about saisons that I’ve gleaned from my husband (who knows as much about beer as he does about coffee, which is to say a whole, whole lot): they’re traditional Belgian & French ales typically brewed in the summer for the field workers. It’s the most wide open style of beer, and they’re usually heavy, yeast forward beers with fruity, spicy notes. Spices, herbs, and grains that are local to the particular farm or just sound like a good idea can be added: lavender, rye, saffron, lemon peel, barley, coriander, grains of paradise, star anise…I could go on. That’s what made it perfect for this dish. Sure you could use a pale ale or even an I.P.A, but I think the saison can’t be beat. I recommend serving it with a glass of the saison for full effect.
A few notes about mussels: make sure you remove the “beard” (the scruffy little furry thing outside the shell) if they’re still attached. Keep them cold, preferably on ice. And don’t tie them up in a plastic bag, they’re living and need to be able to breath or they’ll spoil. Toss mussels that don’t open after cooking; they’re no good.
PS! Our London Food, Photography, and Styling Retreat is now open for registration! I’ll be posting more about it when I post the recap of this past winter’s UK Retreat in Surrey, but if you’d like to check it out, you can find all the details on our retreat site. In addition to the usual retreat tickets, there’s an option to skip the “retreat” bit and just take the workshop classes (and still attend our two best meals!) as well as an option to not book accommodation with us in case you’re local or have friends or family you’d like to stay with! Find all the options in the drop down menu at the bottom of the retreat page.
Juniper + Smoke Marshmallows
- 240 grams (1 cup) smokey scotch
- 18 grams (3 tablespoons) juniper berries, lightly crushed with a mortar & pestle
- 3/4 oz unflavored gelatin powder (3 envelopes of powder)
- 400 grams (2 cups) granulate cane sugar
- 105 grams (2/3 cup) light corn syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I love the vanilla from Shop Ila!)
- nonstick organic vegetable oil spray
- 1 teaspoon smoked salt (or regular will do)
- 4 juniper berries, ground to a powder
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked maldon salt, crushed to get rid of any big pieces
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Line a 13x9x2 inch pan with parchment paper. Coat lightly with nonstick spray or alternately thoroughly dust it with some of the coating mixture leaving no bare spots (use a sifter or fine mesh sieve).
- Heat the scotch in a saucepan, once warm, use a long match or carefully use a lighter to light it on fire to burn off the alcohol. Or skip this step for boozier mallows. Then bring it to a boil and add the juniper berries. Remove from heat and steep, covered, 15-30 minutes. The longer you steep, the stronger the juniper flavor.
- Strain and measure 120 grams (1/2 cup) of the juniper scotch into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator or freezer until very cold. Measure another 120 grams (1/2 cup) of the mixture into a medium saucepan.
- Once the scotch is chilled, pour it into the bowl of your mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over the cold scotch, making sure all of it is wet. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, with the juniper scotch in the saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 235ºF, about 8 minutes.
- With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in a thin stream down the side of the bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash molten hot syrup all over you).
- Once all the syrup is added, gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is white, fluffy, and very thick, about 15 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract if using and beat about 30 seconds longer. It will be voluminous & white, begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl, and will fall very slowly in a thick ribbon when the whisk is lifted when done.
- Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan with a wet spatula (or coated with the nonstick spray). Work quickly as it gets harder to work with if it sits. And by harder I mean almost impossible. Smooth the top with wet spatula, and let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours or overnight if covered loosely with parchment.
- Once the mallows set, sift juniper powder, salt, corn starch, and powdered sugar together in a bowl. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13×9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off parchment or foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab.
- Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with water or nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes, keeping knife wet or coated. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture. Store marshmallows in an airtight container. They will keep for about a week or two.