New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels

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When in Auckland earlier this year at the New Zealand Comedy Festival I was performing my cooking show (‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’) in a theatre which could not have been more ideal. The Herald Theatre (the smaller space behind the gigantic Aotea Centre) a 190-seater space with the steepest seating rake I’ve ever seen and the performing area on floor level. This meant that the audience were all looking down on the action with no obstructions in front of them since the person in front’s head was at knee level for the person behind. It was an ideal position from which to watch someone cook and it also meant that the smells wafted up so that by the end of the show the whole theatre was perfumed with the aroma of, excuse the lack of modesty, a superb three-course meal.

Because the food I cooked in the show involved a fresh snapper (see last post) I spent a lot of time visiting the fantastic fish market down on the harbour and in addition to the fish cooked in the performance I bought a lot of other seafood to enjoy back at my apartment. I got some massive prawns one day which I turned into a thai green curry and they were so delicious I bought more the next day, forgetting as I so often do that I had other fresh things which needed using up. I ended up cooking something else, and then the next day wasn’t there for dinner because of work commitments and so on and on until some four days later I got the prawns out and tried one. As I sank my teeth into the now almost ‘foamy’ texture I shuddered and immediately expelled the rotten crustacea from my mouth and into my hand. They were definitely ‘gone’. The apartment I was staying in was serviced every third day or thereabouts so I tied up the bag and rather than put it in the bin I put it out on the balcony where, unbeknownst to me the wind knocked it behind the air conditioning unit. The next day the maid came and went but the bag of rotten prawns remained.

I couple of nights later I returned to the apartment and was terribly anxious about the smell. I’d spilled rather a lot of water on the floor in a sink-overflow-faster-than-expected-speed-of-tap-soaking-of-burnt-pan incident the day after arriving and my immediate thought was that the damp was the cause of the pong. But then I walked near the balcony doors and the smell got stronger.

When I found the bag it was covered in flies and the stench was overwhelming. My apartment was up on the eighth or ninth floor and way down below next to the apartment block there was a skip on a building site. The prawns had to go, so, terribly anxious that I’d be spotted by someone and shouted at I quickly threw the bag from the balcony in the direction of the skip. I missed. And when I left the apartment, despite the building site being set back from the road you could still smell the rot. I kept an eye on the bag for a couple of days and was hugely relieved when a couple of mornings later it had gone.

Undeterred by the prawn incident on another day I bought mussels. I’d been recommended them by a few people and I wasn’t disappointed. The New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels are HUGE. Far too big for a travel kettle. I had one that was so large it was like a violin case with a chicken in it. And they taste fantastic. I had them simply steamed open with some white wine, with garlic and shallot and parsley, and I made a dish of grilled mussels that was so nice I ended up cooking it on two more occasions for some of my fellow comedians. It’s a bit of a faff but worth it I promise.

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Grilled Mussels with Breadcrumbs
Mussels (about 15 per person, unless you’re in NZ in which case 8)
White Wine, or Cider
Garlic
Shallot
Parsley
Parmesan or similar hard cheese
Cayenne Pepper or Chilli Powder
Breadcrumbs (good ones, stale sourdough would be best)
Butter

Sweat some shallot and garlic in a pan with a little oil and butter before adding the cleaned and prepared mussels (you all know how to do that don’t you?) and a generous splash of wine or cider before clamping the lid on and letting them cook away until the mussels are open (a couple of minutes if that).

Scoop out the mussels (KEEPING THE PRECIOUS LIQUID IN THE PAN) and remove half the shell so you have a load of plump mussels in a half shell. Put them on a metal tray and get the grill hot.

Reduce the cooking liquor down by half, whisk in some cold butter and spoon a little of it over each mussel. Then chop parsley and mix with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle a little mixture over the top of each mussel, add a pinch of cayenne or chilli and some black pepper and a tiny knob of butter and stick under the hot grill until golden and crispy and bubbling.

Enjoy with some very cold white wine and some more bread to mop up the juices left on the plate.

Oh, and if prawns start to go off ever, triple bag them and get them as far away as possible. Or eat them before they go off. Or don’t buy too many. Or don’t buy them unless you’re certain you’re going to use them that day or the next.

(George) 

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