Well, at least a version of them.

Essentially Moules Marinere in its many reincarnations, the original recipe for mussels with fennel & Parmesan is one of the more popular offerings out of my cookbook thanks to it’s simplicity – quick to make, heavenly to eat!

I’ve previously waxed lyrical on my love for these mollusc morsels; the most sustainable out of all seafoods, farmed mussels have an admirably low carbon footprint, aiding in the purification of their environment. Cultivated right here on the Cape West Coast, enjoying fresh mussels is no longer a luxury reserved for overpriced eateries. Growing plump in the deep, nutrient-rich waters of Saldanha Bay, winter mussels are my favourite sort and to celebrate this proudly Weskus ingredient, I love to steam them in a combination of white wine, garlic, cream and herbs and serve them up with hunks of crusty bread to best mop up all that delectable sauce.

Because I’m often asked, I’ve included my how-to guide for preparing live mussels below:

Firstly, submerge them in cold water before using a stiff scrubbing brush to clean each mussel of any seaweed or sand. To remove a mussel’s beard (the weedy tangle mussels use to tether themselves to rocks) 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.

Mussels with Cream, Leeks & Parmesan

Prep time: 15 mins /Cook time: 15 mins /Serves: 4

  • 3 kilograms of fresh Mediterranean mussels, cleaned
  • 250ml fresh cream
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 1 brown onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 30ml butter, for frying
  • 2-3 large leeks, washed and thinly sliced 
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 100g grated Parmesan
  • Salt and 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 leeks in the butter until soft. 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 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 and fresh crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

I served this version of the mussels from my cookbook with a bottle of delicious Diemersdal The Journal Sauvignon Blanc whose woodiness (French oak) and creamy vanilla notes perfectly offset the richness of the sauce.


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