This recipe uses some of my favourite things: fennel, chilli and pickles, a combination of flavours that nearly always make me happy. The mussels become plump and play happily with the aniseed flavours and the hit of chilli is balanced out nicely with the creamy aïoli. All of this goodness sitting on a piece of charred toast and you have a delightful little snack or the start of a delicious meal.
- 2 kg mussels
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 300 ml cider vinegar
- 200 ml water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup fennel, peeled, diced and very briefly blanched
- enough bread for about 8 slices
- fennel aïoli
- salt and white pepper
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.
Resting time a few days
First you need a large pot with a tight lid to open your mussels. You will probably need to do this stage in two batches. Place your pan over a high heat, let it sit for a good few minutes to get very hot, throw in half your mussels with half the wine, place the lid on and give it a little jiggle. You only want to cook your mussels until they just start to open. Have a little look, if you think they're ready, pour them out of the pot into a colander and do the next batch.
Once you've done all the mussels, leave them to cool a little while you make your pickling liquid.
In a medium pan over a gentle heat, splash in some oil and the fennel seeds and chilli flakes. Cook, stirring continuously, until things start to sizzle and you can smell the aromas. Add in the water, vinegar, sugar and salt and bring to the boil. Once it's boiling, turn to a simmer and go back to your mussels.
Remove all the mussels from their shells. It's okay if they're only just cooked as they are soon to be immersed in the pickling liquid.
Once you have a nice pile of nude mussels, turn them into the simmering pickling liquid, raise the heat and cook until it just comes up to the boil again. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before transferring them into a container in your fridge. They can be eaten straight away, however they're best left for at least a few days.
Once you're ready, remove the mussels from their liquid. Leave mussels whole if you like it chunky or give them a rough chop, if desired. Combine them in a bowl with the diced fennel, add a splash of oil, give a little stir and taste for seasoning.
Take your slices of bread and chargrill them nicely on both sides. This is best done over an open fire on a beach, however a grill will suffice.
Spread a generous amount of fennel aÃ¯oli over each slice before spooning over the mussel mix. Cut in half and serve immediately.
• The pickled mussels will last a good month in your fridge and are a tasty little snack to have laying around.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Suresh Watson.