Stephanie Alexander is one of Australia’s most highly regarded chefs. She learnt to cook at her mother’s side and spent many decades in professional kitchens.
She was inspired to produce this cookbook to support people (especially young people) who may not have had much experience at ‘the family table’. As a result, and as she wrote, she pretended the reader was at her side through the whole process from shopping to table.
The book begins with explanations of equipment, and definitions of basic and unfamiliar ingredients and cooking terminology. The rest of the book covers more than 120 core ingredients—from how to buy and store to how to prepare. And, of course, recipes.
While the book is loaded with recipes, I had to go through quite a few page 32s to find one that had a recipe.
Gratin of mussels
2 kg mussels in shell, bearded
1/2 cup white wine
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
500 g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
grated zest of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
Steam mussels open in wine, then remove and discard top shells. Reserve strained juices.
Preheat oven to 220°C. To make the sauce, sauté shallots and garlic in oil until soft. Add carrot and sauté for 5 minutes. Add tomato, tomato paste and lemon zest and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in reserved juices and simmer until sauce is thick. Season with pepper.
Place mussels in a single layer on an ovenproof platter and spoon over sauce. Scatter with breadcrumbs and drizzle with oil. Bake for 10 minutes until golden and bubbling, then scatter with parsley. The dish is good hot or at room temperature.
How it played out
The other day I bought a kilo package of cleaned and ready-to-cook mussels for the rock bottom price of $3.99. They had a use-by date for the next day.
As it happened, Lyn and Peter, friends from out of town, stopped by around lunchtime the next day. So I decided to make a half a batch of this recipe. It fit perfectly because Peter is allergic to regular onions, but can eat shallots (eschalots in this case).
I made the recipe as written, except that we were hungry and in a hurry, so the mussels had only about 7 minutes in the oven. As an aside, I used panko breadcrumbs—those crustier, more full-bodied breadcrumbs—to scatter over the mussels.
All four of us were weak at the knees. This is one of the finest mussel recipes I have ever made. I’ll go beyond that and say it’s one of the nicest recipes I’ve ever made. We all wished I’d had two kilos of mussels on hand.
Super easy to make and so amazingly delicious. Stephanie Alexander clearly deserves her chef-goddess crown.
If you love shellfish, here’s a post from Cambodia.