This Spanish-inspired sauce is slightly smoky from the charred onions. Add the crunch of almonds and the delightful astringency of saffron, and you’ve got a recipe for heavenly mussels. For best results, soak the toasted saffron for several hours if possible.
- 4 red onions, unpeeled
- 12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 400 g can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp paprika, lightly toasted
- 1 small red bird’s-eye chilli, thinly sliced
- 80 ml (⅔ cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 40 g (¼ cup) toasted almonds, roughly chopped
- ¼ tsp saffron, toasted, soaked in 2 tbsp water
- 1 kg pot-ready mussels (see Note) or fresh live mussels, debearded
- crusty bread, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Roast the onions in coals for 5 minutes or until the outside is charred and the inside is soft. (Alternatively, preheat oven to 180°C. Using tongs, place the onions over a gas flame, turning frequently, for 15 minutes or until the outside is blackened. Place in oven and cook for 25 minutes or until soft.) Set aside for 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Peel off the scorched onion skins and discard. Set aside.
Place the garlic cloves in a frying pan over medium heat for 15 minutes or until the outside is scorched and the inside is soft. Squeeze out the flesh, discarding the skins. Process with the reserved onions in a food processor to a coarse paste.
Preheat oven to 220°C. Combine the onion and garlic mixture with the tomatoes, paprika, chilli, olive oil, almonds, saffron and 125 ml water in a large pot and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper (remember the mussels will add their own salt, so don’t over-season). Add more water if too thick. Transfer into a round 7 cm-deep x 33 cm-wide ovenproof dish, and add the mussels, stirring to combine. Place in oven and cook, stirring halfway through, for 15 minutes or until the mussels open. The idea is that the sauce thickens and darkens a little, coating the open mussels, and that the mussels surrender their juices to the sauce.
Serve with crusty bread, a large bowl for the empty shells, and a glass of fine beer or unwooded white wine.
Pot-ready black mussels, available from most fishmongers, are cleaned and bearded.
As seen in Feast Magazine, Issue 12, pg40.
Photography by Alan Benson