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Its all about balance and butter!

Passport & Plate - Black Mussel Soup

South Africa | Monday, 10 March 2014 | 5 photos

36 black mussels of a 900g can
50g (50ml) butter
1 onion, chopped
2ml crushed garlic
30ml chopped parsley (perhaps do a little extra and keep aside to use as a garnish)
30g (30ml) cake flour
125ml mussel liquor (don't panic, you'll make this yourself at the start of the recipe)
125ml fish stock
500ml milk
125ml dry white wine
5ml chopped origanum (or 2ml dried origanum)
1 bay leaf
milled black pepper
125ml cream


How to prepare this recipe
Steam the mussels open in a little water. Drain this liquid out and strain it through muslin or a fine strainer - this is your mussel liquor.
Pull out the beards, leaving the mussels attached to the shells. (the beards are stringy little clumps that the mussel uses to attach itself to the rocks - it should pull away easily after steaming the shells open)
Rinse mussels under gently running cold water, rubbing the shells to remove sand and grit. Drain, open side down, in a colander.
In a large pot gently soften the onion, garlic and parsley in butter. Remove from the heat and blend in the flour, then add the mussel liquor slowly, making sure there are no lumps. Place the pot back on the heat and add the stock, milk and white wine. Cook, stirring, until the soup begins to thicken.
Add the origanum, bay leaf and black pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. (Your kitchen will smell sensational at this point but wait, it gets better!)
Just before serving, add the cream and mussels to the soup and heat through without allowing it to boil. (Now its perfect!)

Serve with crusty bread and enjoy! (serves 6-8 people)

You can prepare this soup up to 2 days ahead of time. Store the broth and mussels separately, covered and refrigerated. Before serving, reheat the broth and add the cream and mussels.


The story behind this recipe
Growing up on the East Coast of South Africa I have been lucky enough to enjoy the abundance that the Indian Ocean provides. My earliest and most cherished memories involve sitting on the beach while my dad clambered on the rocks to pick mussels for our supper. By the time I was 8 years old I was helping my dad collect and clean our quota of mussels at Umhloti beach (South Africa is very good at ensuring the protection of our coastline and the harvesting of mussels, crayfish etc, a licence is required to harvest any seafood. This ensures a sustainable eco-system). With its ragged rocks and warm rock pools it's a haven for families. We would sit with our feet in a rock pool and clean our mussels while our Jack Russel, Springer, would try and catch the little fish darting between our legs. We would head home with sand in our hair and sun-kissed cheeks, filled with anticipation for the mussel soup that my parents would cook together that evening. Fast forward to present day and not much has changed - the landscape is still the same with the humid air and sticky salty breeze reminding us that an afternoon thunderstorm is on its way. My dad is still scrambling over the rocks with the same trusty screw driver we've always used but there is an added generation now. I watch my dad teach my 8 year old daughter how to loosen mussels and listen to him teach her the same lessons about respecting the ocean and the creatures in it that he taught me all those years ago.
This recipe, originally from a South African cookbook called Free from the Sea, has become part of our family culture.
This recipe is about loving the part of the world you are in and savouring the produce available on your doorstep.
And one day, when my dad is too old to collect mussels on his own I will do it for him so that we can continue to make these memories for the generations to come.

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