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Mussels are an ingredient I crave on an admirably consistent basis. In the second instalment of my series of recipes paired with Vriesenhof wines, I’m giving the French classic Moules Mariniere a winter makeover. By adding parsnips, Parmesan and fresh thyme the dish takes on a hearty appeal – ideal to partner with Vriesenhof’s Wooded Chardonnay.

And since today is international Chardonnay Day, there seems like no better time to sample this queen of cultivars. Full bodied and appealing, Chardonnay is my wine of choice to pair with robust winter chicken and seafood-based dishes. Redolent of dried pear and peach with a lingering minerality that compliments the briny bite of the mussels, wooded Chardonnay can also be enjoyed alongside cheese, hence my addition of sharp Parmesan to round out the recipe.

I’m vehemently against frozen mussels and so will always recommend using fresh. I find that freezing mussels damages their delicate texture and flavour – plus frozen mussels won’t have any of their delicious liquid to flavour sauces and stocks. Here in Cape Town we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to make use of Blue Ocean Mussels‘ delivery service. For large appetites, work on roughly a kilogram per person – I can usually consume half a kilo in a sitting – and remember that a goodly amount of bread will usually be present alongside any decent mussel dish.

To prepare mussels, submerge them in cold clean water before using a stiff scrubbing brush to clean each mussel of any seaweed or sand. This step can usually be omitted with farmed mussels as they are grown on ropes in deeper water and are thus less likely to ingest sand. To remove a mussel’s beard (the weedy tangle mussels use to tether themselves to those ropes) simply take hold of the beard and give it a firm tug across the length of the shell. It should come away relatively easily, although this job can require some perseverance. Discard any mussels that don’t close when tapped sharply on the shell, as they are no longer alive. Store the cleaned mussels in a large bowl in the refrigerator until ready to cook. I always aim to cook my mussels on the same day I purchased them, but if you are sure of their source then uncleaned mussels can be safely kept in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Mussels with parsnips & Parmesan

Prep time: 20 mins / Cook time: 20 mins / Serves: 4

You will need:

  • 3-4 kilograms of fresh mussels, cleaned
  • 250ml fresh cream
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 50ml chicken stock
  • 4-6 leeks, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
  • 30ml butter, for frying
  • 3-4 large parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 100g grated Parmesan
  • Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper

Use a large stove-proof casserole with a lid for this recipe, as it makes steaming the mussels in the sauce an easier task.

Place the casserole dish over medium heat and sauté the chopped leek in the butter until soft. Increase the heat, add the grated parsnip and cook to al dente. Strip the thyme leaves from the woody stalks and add to the dish. Simmer the mixture for another minute then deglaze the dish with the white wine. Reduce by half and then add the cream, chicken stock and the crushed garlic. Scatter in the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Season to taste, going easy on the salt. Once the sauce has thickened, you can add in the mussels, as their liquid will loosen up the sauce again. Turn the heat to medium and place all the mussels into the sauce. Cover the dish with its lid and steam for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened – being sure to discard any that haven’t unless you’re sure of the origin and freshness of the mussels. If they’re very fresh and have opened a crack, simply work the shell wider with the tip of a butter knife.

Stir the mussels through the sauce and divide between four warmed bowls. Serve the mussels immediately with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top, fresh crusty bread to mop up the sauce and a chilled bottle of Vriesenhof wooded Chardonnay.

Courtesy of Georgia East of East Afternoon