Mussels are one of my favourite shellfish. As a nation we are truly addicted to them and I feel you can never have enough. It is perhaps without much objectivity therefore that I would claim they are one of the most outstanding foods to be found in the British Isles.
1–1.5kg (2-3lb) of mussels
3 shallots, sliced into half moons
1 garlic clove, crushed under a knife and then finely sliced
250ml medium-dry cider
250ml chicken stock
100ml double cream
4 sprigs of tarragon
Sourdough bread, to serve
Rinse the mussels under cold water and remove their “beards”. A few will be slightly open. Tap them quite hard on the work surface. If, after a minute or so, the mussel closes, you know it is alive. Discard any mussels that do not close.
Heat a splash of rapeseed oil in a large pan, add the shallots and garlic and fry over a medium heat until softened but not browned. Add the cider, chicken stock and cream and turn the heat up high with the lid on. Once the liquid has come to a boil, add the mussels.
Stir once, cover the pan again and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the mussels open. Add the tarragon sprigs and stir the mussels to check the majority have opened. Discard any that don’t open. It is far easier to overcook mussels than it is to undercook them, so resist the urge to continue any longer.
With a slotted spoon, divide the mussels between two serving bowls, then taste the cooking liquid and add salt if needed. Ladle the liquor over the mussels and get amongst them pronto. An empty mussel shell makes a perfect set of tweezers for removing the remaining mussels from their shells, and decent sourdough bread will thirstily mop up the last drops of the liquor.