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Beards and mussels

From The Forest Cantina

Delicious things come from beautiful places, and I have a soft spot for the Marlborough Sounds and their bounty. I was inspired to use four ingredients from this region – mussels, saffron, sea salt and wine – to create a light lunch. Mussels in a rich broth, crusty bread, with plenty of crisp white wine sounds pretty dang good to me.

Unna Birch from The Forest Cantina

When buying mussels it might seem like you’re getting a lot, but just remember that the bulk of the weight is the shell. The rule for mussels is, buy mussels that are completely closed with no cracks in the shells, then once they’re cooked, discard any that haven’t opened. That way you’re eating safe shellfish.

Marlborough mussels in broth

Serves: 3-4
Time: Quick

3 kg mussels
1 large pinch saffron
2 cups sauvignon blanc
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 fat cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 green chillies (depending how much heat you like), finely chopped
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons Fair Trade sugar
1 medium bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice to taste


Discard any mussels that are open. Pull the beards off the mussels (I do this by giving them a wiggle wiggle wiggle, then a sharp pull upwards, tugging them out) and scrub the shells well with a scrubbing brush. Set aside.

Take a small frying pan and put on a medium heat. Add the saffron and toast lightly to release its aroma (about 2 minutes). Remove and add to the wine to steep.

Place a large stock pot (with a fitting lid) over a medium/high heat, and heat the butter until it goes bubbly and slightly brown. Add the onions with a teaspoon of sea salt and cook until the onions are soft and transparent, stirring often. Add the garlic and the chilli and cook off for about two minutes before adding the tomatoes and sugar. Bring to the boil then add the mussels. Cover and set a timer for three minutes. Then remove any opened cooked mussels, and cover again and cook for a further two minutes. At this stage I take the mussels out as they open. Any mussels that don’t open must be discarded.

Taste the tomato broth and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Ladle the broth into warmed bowls then pile the mussels over top. Garnish with parsley and finish with a little extra pepper.


Serve with crunchy ciabatta bread and cold white wine on the side.

Our friends from Tohu Wines have suggested their Kono Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as a wine match.

‘Our Kono Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect wine to cook with as well as pair with a zesty recipe! 
It’s best to cook with as it will not become bitter during the cooking process, and it’s a wonderful wine to match with seafood. 
It has a nice tropical fruit finish, complementing the saffron from the recipe, and a lovely slightly green hue, which moves to almost clear colouring on the rim.’

First published Capital issue 25
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