Grilling mussels is not, I confess, a method of preparation that seems appropriate for this particular bivalve but, in this instance, worked quite well. This recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s latest book “Save with Jamie” though, even as a life-long devotee (well, since the age of ten) of Mr. Oliver, I would not recommend that you buy it.
Sure, the idea is a good and relevant one but, in my opinion, Jamie is losing touch with what made him great in the beginning. His whole original mantra, all those years ago as the ‘Naked Chef’ was to take away the mystery of cheffy food for the hesitant home-cook. His books used to include pages of bread recipes, pasta assembly and easy-to-follow sauces and marinades. Now, apart from the odd pizza base or chapati one barely sees a bread-from-scratch recipe anymore and gone are the details of how you might make your own curry paste, instead simply listing ‘X curry paste’ as an ingredient. He started as a brilliantly charismatic and relatable young man that was desperately happy to share professional techniques and recipes in a way that would take away the fear and reluctance of these meals for those that cooked at home. He has, as much as I hate to say this, become no better in print that a bog-standard Good Housekeeping or Women’s Weekly cookery writer.
Maybe these things could have been forgiven in the tedious years that surrounded “15 minute meals” and “30 minute meals”. Those sort of books clearly have an audience and that audience responded well. One cannot be expected to put together bread in 30 minutes, pasta dough would not have time to rest and curry pastes and sauces might have been seen as too much to handle in the limited time frame. “Jamie’s Great Britain” was a welcomed reprieve, his best book in years but he sunk down again. Maybe he has his fingers in too many pies now, maybe many things, but he seems to have lost touch with what it was that brought people to him, what it was about him that made him the chef that inspired a nation of home-cooks to up their game, the success of taking away the mystery.
Now, I’m not going to say this book is a disaster, of course it has usable recipes and many of them are good, I’m not going to say that it is full of errors, but it lacks the application I had hoped for and, all in all, feels, for want of a better word, rushed.
It might be said that I no longer fit Jamie’s audience, being a professionally trained chef myself now, and I’m not writing this in the hopes that many will agree. I write it because it’s sad when our erst-while heroes appear to be falling and we desperately don’t want them to, we want our inspirations to carry on inspiring us and, I hate to confess, he hasn’t inspired or excited me about food now for a long time.
I have all thirteen hard-back first edition copies of Jamie Oliver’s books. From “The Naked Chef” with ‘Christmas 2000′ written inside in my mother’s hand full of sticky finger marks from making my first breads and splashes from my first broths right through to this one. The amount of post-it notes and scribbles of suggestions and dog ears decreases in the books as they get newer, apart from an enthusiastic medley of noting and annotation and more sticky finger marks in ‘Great Britain’. I don’t know if he’s going to get his mojo back, I don’t know whether he is fully conscious that he has dumbed down himself as far as it seems he has, but if the next book is quite so lacking, this might well be my last literary purchase from Jamie Oliver.
He suggested that this recipe be served alongside tomato soup. Everyone has their preferences and that didn’t make sense to me. You might have mussels in a chunky soup or served with a tomato sauce but to have soup as a side to mussels with little to bridge the two was not to my affections. The above picture is half the mussels I used (500g – enough for 2) and the other half I scattered chopped, fresh tomato and black pepper over the base and grilled lightly before adding the mussels and topping and grilling then. I served that with some fresh bread to dunk into and pick up the tomatoes, sweetened by the mussels, corn on the cob (because Vinnie’s going through a corn-phase right now) and broad beans.
- 500g fresh, live mussels
- 1 handful parsley
- 1 garlic clove
- about 50g rough breadcrumbs
- About 20-30g mature cheddar or parmesan
- 1-2T olive oil OR flavoured oil (I used a smoked garlic oil)
- fresh chopped tomatoes
- Heat up a pan on the stove with a little oil.
- Rinse and debeard the mussels. Throw away any the remain open even if tapped.
- heat grill to high, if using tomatoes then cut them up and scatter over the base of a roasting dish and grind over some pepper. Put under the grill for the three minutes it might take to do the next step and remove.
- Put the mussels in the pan with a splash of water, cover and cook until they have all just opened, discarding any that are still closed.
- In a food processor combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, parsley and oil (or chop, tear and crush it all roughly by hand)
- Place all the mussels in the dish and discard one of each of their shells.
- Scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the top and season with pepper.
- Place under the grill for 4-6 minutes until the breadcrumbs have gone crispy.