The mussels: The mussels served in most restaurants are the horrible, tough, granular half-shell frozen kind. And what’s sad is that we now think that’s how a mussel should be. Fresh mussels, when properly (and that means briefly) cooked, are truly silken, and taste of the sea in the best possible way. The frozen ones have no place in your kitchen or your mouth, so shun them. Ask a good fishmonger to source you the fresh ones; some of them will comply. Count on about 12 mussels per person. Scrub and wash the shells, pull the beard out (as much as possible), then plunge them into boiling water just until the nano-second they open, removing them individually as they do. You want them slightly undercooked.
It’s an old wives’ tale that the unopened ones should be discarded – well, certainly as far as farmed mussels are concerned. I’ve been eating and serving them for years. They are often the best and boldest, which is perhaps why they have the strongest closing mechanism. So fish these out just after all the opened ones are open and out. Slip a sharp knife between the shells, and cut through the small muscle that holds the shell together. You can prepare the mussels to this point a couple of hours ahead, and leave them covered in the fridge. When ready to eat, plonk them into the sauce below, and heat through just until hot, no longer.
The sauce: You can give Leah Tsonye a pint of water and a stone, and she’ll make it taste delicious. Beautiful, ballsy Leah, our current head chef, started working for us in our first restaurant in 1999 in the scullery. When our erstwhile chef arrived blind drunk for the third time in a row on a busy Saturday night, he was fired on the spot, and I hauled Leah to the front of the kitchen to help me. In a few months, this amazing woman – who had never eaten, let alone cooked, any of the Asian, Middle Eastern or, for that matter, Eurocentric stuff we were doing – was playing with the ingredients with an ease and understanding that was almost eerie. She is a food savant, no exaggeration. This is really her sauce. The general concept was mine, lifted from an amalgamation of other sauces, but she brought it into being in a way that’s better than I’d imagined
Mussels with lime-ginger-chilli cream sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons slivered garlic
1 teaspoon chopped red chilli
1 teaspoon lime rind (or lemon if limes are not about)
2 tablespoons slivered ginger
400 ml white wine – something off-dry or sweet
1 litre cream
250 ml water
½ teaspoon turmeric
Salt and sugar to balance/taste
Spring onion, slivered, 1 tablespoon per serving
A handful of baby tomatoes for serving
Heat the oil and fry the garlic, chilli, lime or lemon rind and ginger for two minutes.
Add the wine and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered. Add the cream and water, and put on a low simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, salt and sugar to balance, plus more chilli if necessary. The sauce should be very pungent, and intense in all directions: strongly spicy-hot, sharp, sweet (but not too sweet) and creamy. Adjust if necessary.
Add the baby tomatoes and cook for five minutes, then add the mussels to heat through again if already cooled. Pour into bowls, top with the spring-onion slivers and serve immediately with loads of steamed long-grain rice or crusty dipping bread.
This sauce is also very good, as you can guess, with white fish such as hake. Just cook the fillets in the sauce on a low simmer.
sauce for eight generous portions
Michael’s wine recommendation – CLICK HERE
Andrea Burgener is a self-taught chef and food writer based in Johannesburg. Her first professional kitchen experience was in Braam Kruger’s Kitchenboy restaurant, before that she studied Fine Art at Wits University. She juggles her time between her family, running a busy Johannesburg restaurant, The Leopard, and writing food articles for a range of publications including The Times.
Lampedusa Pie was the winner of the 2013 International Gourmand Most Innovative Cookbook in South Africa award. Andrea’s restaurant The Leopard won the Eat Out Award for the Best Bistro in South Africa in 2013.
She is a regular guest judge on MasterChef South Africa. One of the regular judges on the show, Pete Goffe-Wood, calls her the ‘Queen of Creative Cuisine’.
When I first received this book I read it because I had heard of Andrea and her reputation really preceded her. As I paged through, I realised that here was real food. There is not a single dish that I don’t want to cook. You’ll find some classics, Andrea’s way. You will find some really innovative and utterly delicious dishes. This is a kitchen shelf book, not one for your coffee table. Use it, and don’t be shy to get some food splashes on it.
Lampedusa Pie is published by Bookstorm.