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.
Saison Steamed Mussels with Preserved Lemon
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 small fennel bulb or half medium halved, cored, and sliced (reserve some frond for serving)
- 2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced (reserve some celery leaf for serving)
- pinch saffron threads
- zest of 1 lemon
- half a preserved lemon, finely chopped (skin only!)
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 375 mL (1.5 cups) saison beer
- 2 lb mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
- 1/4 cup finely shopped flat leaf parsley
- toasted rustic bread for serving
- Melt butter in a pot deep enough to hold the mussels over medium heat. I used a heavy dutch oven.
- Add garlic, shallot, fennel, saffron, lemon zest, salt, and preserved lemon. Cook until the fennel is just starting to soften but still toothsome.
- Give it a good stire, add the mussels, toss to coat with the goodies in the pan.
- Pour in the beer beer, and bring to boil with the lid on.
- Reduce to simmer. Cook 4-5 min until mussels are just open. You don't want to overcook them! No one likes a leather mussel. Discard any unopened.
- Top with parsley, fennel frond, and celery leaf, and serve with toasted or grilled bread & a glass of saison.