A variation on the French classic Moules Mariniere this simple speedy dish is sharp and sophisticated
- Tip the mussels into a colander in a sink under a cold running tap. Put a large bowl nearby. Rinse the shells well. Scrub them with a nail brush or scrape them with a small knife to clean the surface. Any barnacle shells can be scraped off but I tend to leave the small ones. If any mussels have black threads (beards) tug them out. Drop the mussels into the bowl as you go. Once finished, rinse them all again under cold water. Discard all mussels with cracked shells.
- Tap any open mussels on a hard surface. If they don’t close tight completely, discard them.
- Peel and dice the shallots. Slice 2 cloves of garlic and crush the other 2. Measure out the butter and wine before you start to cook. Have the other ingredients close to hand.
- Organise any extras such as chips or bread or mayo and warm serving bowls before you cook.
- Take a saucepan or pasta pan or casserole that’s big enough to take all the mussels. If you don’t have the right size, split the quantities between 2 pans and cook simultaneously.
- Melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes until soft and translucent. Don’t let them brown up.
- Increase the heat to high. Add the wine or Noilly Prat. Boil for 2 minutes.
- Tip the mussels into the pan with 1/3 of the tarragon. Clamp the lid on. Cook over full heat for 2 minutes. Shake and shuffle it a couple of times. Open and stir the mussels so they cook evenly and to check they’re opening. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Using a large, preferably slotted, spoon, share the mussels out between the warm bowls. Set aside in a warm place.
- Tip the cream into the cooking liquor. Add the mustard and lemon if using. Tear the tarragon in. Boil the mix for a minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour the liquid over the bowls of steaming mussels. Take them to the table.
- Sit the hot bowls on plates. Eat with spoon and fork or use 2 shells to pinch the mussel meat out. Soak up the delicious liquor with chunks of hot bread (ciabatta or baguette). These are also great with deep-fry frites, shallow-fry chips or potato wedges for oven baking. Put a large plate or dish on the table to take the shells.