Last Updated on March 10, 2021
Shetland Island Mussels in Cider from Kent and Cream
This easy recipe for mussels in cider and cream comes from a need right now to support the British fishing industry. Brexit has left many of our fishermen with a challenge as export barriers make it hard to ship produce such as live shellfish to the Continent. Would you have known that the Shetland Isles were a centre for mussels? Or, that mussels are widely cultivated in Scotland, with a multitude of benefits gained from the aquaculture practice. Shellfish farming means that the mussels can be grown in high-quality water where the mussels produced will be suitable for human consumption. There’s also a lower environmental impact than harvesting mussels by dredging and disturbing the natural ecosystem. More popular on the continent than the UK, annual consumption here is is less than 0.3 kg per person whilst the French eat around 2kg a year and the Belgians eat between 4 and 5 kg! While before Brexit our shellfish was often exported to Europe, right now that’s not possible due to the increased levels of red-tape as a result of our exit from the EU. So, why not eat more Scottish mussels – especially when there are delicious, easy options like this recipe for mussels in cider.
The majority of mussels from the Shetland Isles today are rope grown – a technique which is based on collecting wild mussel spat (seed) and then growing the spat on droppers from ropes suspended from 200 to 400m long, supported by plastic floats, in the North Atlantic waters. Harvesting is simple, the rope droppers on which the mussels are grown are simply lifted and the mussels removed by hand or machine.
What I buy from my local farmers’ market is shipped to our regular fish seller, James Ackroyd from Potter Street Fishmongers who turns up on Saturdays with a selection of goodies. You can see the mussels lurking behind the post just waiting to be snapped up!
I’m very conscious at the moment of the crisis for British fishermen so am making a real effort to try and buy local produce. Just occasionally I’ll lapse, tempted by fat prawns from the warmer Pacific ocean for example (check out my prawn and chorizo linguine recipe!). But when that happens I buy tiny quantities. This week I ended up with crab legs from Devon, turbot from the South Coast and a huge bag of Shetland mussels. A kilo of mussels like the one I bought for £6.00 is plenty for 2 or 3 people. But, if you don’t want to eat them all at once, it’s possible to cook them and then use some of them in a risotto or as a garnish for other dishes. Once cooked they will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.
Mussels from good fishmongers are sold live or sometimes cooked and frozen. If you buy the live kind, you should aim to eat them within a couple of days of purchase and in the meanwhile, store them in the fridge wrapped up in a damp tea towel. To prepare them, start by rinsing and scrubbing them carefully under cold running water. Discard any with a broken shell or which won’t close when tapped firmly against the worktop. Clean them by putting them in a bowl of well-salted cold water (I use 2 tablespoons for a litre of water). Leave them for half an hour, then rinse them under running water again and remove any ‘beards’ by tugging hard towards the hinge end of the mussel.
Cook them by steaming them in a large pan. Start by softening some garlic and shallots in a tablespoon of butter or olive oil along with a little freshly ground black pepper. Once the shallots are translucent and soft, add in 150ml of cider for every kilo of mussels. Bring to the boil. Now tip in all the mussels and put the lid on the pan.
It should take from three to five minutes for the shells to open up. Any that don’t open should be discarded as they may have died well before they reached your kitchen. Put the remainder in a warm bowl, cover and keep warm while you reduce down the cider. Boil it up for 5 minutes or so, then take the pan off the heat and add a couple of tablespoons of the liquor to your cream. Pour the mixture back into the pan and warm through gently before tasting and seasoning with salt, pepper and freshly chopped parsley.
Serve with fries or with a warm baguette of crusty French bread.
There are a number of great things about this dish. Firstly mussels are very low in calories with about 200 calories for a half kilo shell on portion. They are protein-rich, with 30g of protein per portion to only 5g of fat. Mussels are also rich in selenium, iron, iodine and omega 3 and have a huge amount of vitamin B12. And, of course, they are delicious. This is a super quick dish to make – just make sure you allow enough time to purge and clean your mussels before you start to cook.
Here’s a printable version of the recipe for you to make at home. If you prefer to use white wine in place of the cider, that will work equally well, though personally, I wouldn’t add the cream.
Mussels in Cider
- 1 kg live mussels in their shells
- 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
- 2 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 150 ml strong dry cider
- 100 ml double cream
- 2 tbsp salt to purge the mussels
- salt, pepper and fresh parsley to season and serve
- Clean the mussels by scrubbing their shells under running water
- Put them in a large bowl with about a litre of water to 2 tablespoons of salt and leave to purge for 20 to 30 minutes
- Rinse the mussels again, removing any 'beards' by tugging firmly towards the hinge of the mussel
- Peel and chop the shallots and garlic
- Heat the oil or butter in a large pan and then add the shallots and garlic.
- Cook for 5 minutes over a moderate heat till softened
- Add in the cider and bring to the boil
- Add in the mussels and put the lid on the pan.
- Cook for 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan gently every so often to redistribute the mussels
- Once all the mussel shells are open, use a spoon with holes to remove the mussels in their shells and put in a covered bowl to keep warm
- Turn up the heat in the pan, remove the lid and reduce the liquid down for 5 minutes
- Mix in a couple of spoonfuls of the liquid with the cream, then add the cream into the pan
- Taste and adjust the seasoning. Heat through gently
- Pour the sauce over the mussels and garnish with fresh parsley