'Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!" So goes the old tune that made Molly Malone famous. It's a reminder that these delicious little bivalves are living things, though it can be hard to equate them with life as we know it.
This St Patrick's Day, I'll be celebrating with mussels cooked in some delicious Irish Pale Ale. Mussels are our most abundant shellfish and they're an inexpensive way to enjoy the fruits of our seas. Seek out Irish mussels in your local fishmongers. Mussels are among the most palatable of shellfish and are a good gateway to crustaceans. Not only are they affordable but their plumpness and pretty orange hue make them a feast for the eyes as well as for the belly.
If you want to learn more about mussels, you can put the Connemara Mussel Festival in your diary. It's taking place from April 28-30 on the Renvyle Peninsula. Another great source of mussels inspiration is food writer Máirín Uí Chomáin's cookbook Irish Mussel Cuisine, inspired by the festival. You can buy a copy for €8 on the festival's website at connemaramusselfestival.com.
Instead of going for a cream-based broth or a white wine base, I'm using Irish Pale Ale for these mussels and Cork-based Eight Degrees Brewing is one of the original and best breweries in the Irish craft beer movement. It says its Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale is so crisp and refreshing that it's like "blitzing down the Ballyhouras on your bike with an icy wind in your face". Yum.
I've paired these mussels with some toasted sourdough for mopping up the pale ale broth. You could make your own homemade chips if you wanted to do an Irish version of Moules Frites.
Happy St Patrick's Day!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
1 tablespoon of soft butter
1 small onion
2 bacon rashers
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves
150ml pale ale, plus more to serve
More fresh thyme or parsley
Sourdough bread to serve
1. Start by scrubbing and debearding your mussels. Discard any mussels that have opened already. They are dead and aren't safe to eat. Debearding (a delightful phrase) means to remove the beard-like threads that the mussels can grow. Set the mussels aside until ready to use.
2. Heat the butter in a large pot with a lid over a medium to high heat. Finely dice the onion and roughly chop the bacon. Add the onion, bacon and whole thyme sprigs to the butter and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onion is translucent.
3. Finely dice the garlic cloves and add to the onion and bacon. Fry for a further couple of minutes until you can smell the garlic starting to cook.
4. Add the pale ale to the pot and bring to a simmer. Increase the heat if needed. Now add the mussels to the pot. Place the lid on the pot and cook for about five to eight minutes, shaking the pot from time to time. Cook until most of the mussels have opened up. Remove from the heat and discard any mussels that haven't opened.
5. Serve the mussels with the pale ale broth and some fresh thyme or parsley sprinkled on top and some toasted sourdough on the side. 6. As an alternative to sourdough, you could make a batch of your own homemade chips. Slice a few potatoes into chip wedges, parboil them for a couple of minutes and then finish them off by roasting in the oven or deep-frying them. Serve with plenty of salt and pepper.
This week's storecupboard essential:
Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale :
Eight Degrees Brewing is a microbrewery in Michelstown, Co Cork. The citrus tones in this Pale Ale makes it an ideal partner for fish, whether you're cooking with it or drinking it.
Find out more about Eight Degrees Brewing at eightdegrees.ie