Some of my earliest food memories are from childhood holidays in France. This involved long, soporific car journeys in the family Citroen (with pneumatic suspension); to Brittany and to the South of France. In these enlighted times we're now all a bit blase about good food, but back then, l'escargots, cuisses de grenouilles, and moules mariniere were a big deal for us kiddywinks brought up on fish-fingers, lemon meringue pie, and Heinz alphabet spaghetti.
The War had a lot to do with it. Rationing lasted until the 1950's, and the sense of culinary adventure (if it ever existed) was lost for good. I think this still applies. Okay, everyone over here is obsessed with celebrity chefs, and buy their glossy coffee-table books by the yard, but I doubt any of them are read- or- heaven forbid- actually used.
This made me think about that French classic, moules mariniere, or, mussels cooked in wine (or cream), with garlic and parsley. It's a great dish, no doubt about it; but I'm going to put my gastronomic reputation on the table by telling you that I think the traditional British version is better. This uses cider, instead of white wine. Cider is less acidic, and, in my opinion, creates a better balance for the sauce.
Here's how you make it. Saute some chopped shallots in a large pan, with a bayleaf, and a sprig of thyme. Add a crushed garlic clove. Next, pour in a bottle of dry cider. Try and use a decent cloudy organic cider, such as Sedlescombe Farmhouse Cider from Sussex, rather than the sweet fizzy stuff. Bring to the boil, and evaporate the alcohol.
Now it's time for the mussels. If you're buying fresh mussels, it's important that they are prepared carefully. First, throw out any mussels which are open, or even slightly open. Scrub the mussels with a brush to remove the "beards' and the "tufts" that you will see growing out of the closed shells. Next, soak the mussels in a basin of fresh water for a few hours, to remove any sand or grit. Take them out, put them into a colander, and place them under a running tap.
Once the mussels have been properly washed and cleaned, add them to the pan, cover tightly, and boil them over a high heat, shaking the pan all the time as they cook. After about five minutes, the mussels should be ready. Throw out any mussels which have not opened. Strain the liquor into another pan, and add a dollop of double cream.
Double cream is less likely to curdle than single cream. Stir it around, and cook it down for a minute or so. Season with a decent sea salt, and chunky black pepper, and then pour it back over the mussels. Garnish with lots of chopped fresh parsley.