This is a heavily updated version of a recipe for broiled mussels with herb butter that I wrote about some months ago. The fact that I’d written about it before should not detract from the glory of this recipe – in fact, it should add to it. Because only truly delicious things are worth coming back to – and I always tinker. And besides, now I have a better camera and can take better photos, which make it all the more worth writing about this again.
In addition, having done some more research, I have brought the recipe closer to its original inspiration (Oysters Rockefeller), made it even easier, and actually further improved on the taste, at least in my view. Or mouth. Or both.
The recipe uses the same deep-frozen New Zealand Greenshell mussels as the previously-done one, and they perform admirably quick-defrosted via the bag-in-cool-water method. In fact, the entire prep takes very little time, as does the cooking – I think the styling and photography for this entry took more time than the actual cooking.
So what do you need for 2 mussel-starved souls?
- 12-16 large NZ greenshell mussels on half shell (we buy ours loose from a scoop freezer at the supermarket, so I shamelessly pick the hugest ones I can see and we find 12 of those monsters are enough)
- 3 heaping tablespoons spreadable butter or regular salted butter (let latter sit out of the fridge for a few minutes so it’s not rock-hard)
- 3 tablespoons assorted frozen herbs. (You can buy those prepared in baggies and boxes, but in my case it was open the freezer and see what bags and boxes of herbs I’ve stashed there – I always freeze my excess herbs. So this was about a tablespoon of flat-leaf parsley, tablespoon of chives and green onions, and a tablespoon of herbes de provence mix scraped out of the bottom of one of those bought boxes.)
- 1 pinch of chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- A pinch or so of sea salt to taste (be careful with this, if butter is salted, it may not be necessary at all)
- 1 tablespoon bread crumbs (slightly heaping is ok)
- Some assorted salad greens, a sliced orange or pear or some grapes to serve.
What to do?
- Defrost your mussels.
- Set oven to preheat to 220°C and line a baking dish or roasting pan with some foil. Mussels don’t stick, this is purely to minimize the mess and subsequent cleanup.
- Add herbs, chili, salt (if using), garlic granules to a mini-chopper and blitz to smithereens. Add butter (spreadable or softened) and blitz again till mixture resembles crumbs in texture. Add breadcrumbs and blitz yet again till mixed in.
- Lay the mussels out on the sheet and using a butter knife, gently add a bit of herb butter onto the top of each. If any butter remains, spread it among the mussels (more is better here!).
- Stick onto a rack towards the top of the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes until butter melts, then swap the setting to grill+fan and allow the mounds of herbs to brown but not burn. The timing for the latter setting depends heavily on distance from broiler (top grill), and how hot your oven runs – so watch the mussels during that time.
- While your mussels are baking, prepare your plates – a little bit of dressed greens (I used a drizzle of olive oil and finishing salt on arugula), and some fruit (slices of orange or a crisp pear or some grapes).
- Take mussels out, plate on prepared plates, and serve immediately. Green tea or sparkling water with lemon will go very well alongside.
Many people use lavender – as perfume, or bathing, or a variety of other things, but have you ever considered using it as a seasoning?
Lavender is part of the same family as rosemary, and as such, generally works fine in any dishes where rosemary can also be used. It has a strong, sweet but a little harsh scent (familiar to most if not all). A small caution for using lavender in food – it can turn slightly bitter if you go too generously with it. Use the same guideline as you would with hot spices – try a little and gradually increase the amount if you feel it’s not enough. On the other hand, because of how strong the fragrance is, a little really does go a long way. There is no need to pour it on by the teaspoonful – a few dried flowers scattered over your meal do more than enough to impart the flavor.
This is a dish of giant prawns in which I incidentally decided to use up some slightly-softening tomatoes and a bit of sourdough bread from the day before which was going slightly stale. The reference to “scampi” is not in terms of what species of crustacean I use, but the American prawn or shrimp dish, of which this is a more robust variation.
It takes nearly no time, tastes fantastic and uses up leftovers all at the same time. It can go really well paired with a salad of some sort of bitter greens such as baby leaf salad or arugula, but it’s just fine as it is on its own as well.
What you need (feeds 2):
- 8-12 giant prawns or 300g tiger or whiteleg prawns (the commonly sold varieties), shell cut on top, and deveined.
- 2 tomatoes
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- Pinch of red chili flakes
- Pinch of dried culinary lavender buds. Note: when buying lavender, please make sure it’s untreated and suitable for consumption. Spice shops and gift shops in botanical gardens will frequently stock it, but I am sure it is possible to get culinary-grade lavender on the net as well.
- 75ml sherry (not sweet, I use Amontillado)
- Sea salt to taste
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- A few slices of sourdough or other crusty bread with strong crumb (somewhat stale ok). Really, you can probably do this well with just about any decent bread, but for the love of little green apples, please, please don’t try this with the insipid white spongy bagged … stuff (I hesitate to call that bread), it will disintegrate on contact with liquids and you will get disgusting mush.
- Some chopped flat-leaf parsley to decorate (entirely optional).
What to do:
- Drain your defrosted and deveined prawns in a colander.
- Preheat broiler (top grill) of your oven to 220°C.
- Blitz garlic in a food processor to small shreds. Add tomatoes and blitz to a coarse slurry.
- Add sea salt, chili, lavender buds, sherry, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and blend to combine.
- Place your prawns in a bowl, pour over the sauce you’ve just mixed, and swish around to combine. Ensure all prawns are at least moistened by the sauce.
- In the meantime, cut up the bread – reserve a few of the nicer slices for toasting and cut the rest up into 2-3 fingers lengthwise each. Drizzle the slices reserved for toasting with the remaining olive oil on both sized (use more if needed) and allow to rest.
- Pour the prawns and sauce into a ceramic or glass baking dish and spread out into a single layer. Add the cut-up fingers of bread at a tilt (close to horizonal) in a sort of a falling-domino pattern around the edges of the dish, submerging the edges of them in the sauce.
- Place a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat to preheat.
- Place the prawn dish under broiler (about 2nd rack from the top of the oven) and cook until the prawns are red and curled up, with edges beginning to char lightly. The time will depend on your oven, how far the rack is in it, and how large your prawns were, but at a guess, they can be ready in as little as 10 minutes or as much as 20 (my giant ones took a while).
- While the prawns cook, lightly toast the reserved drizzled-with-oil bread slices in the pan and arrange them on plates. Sprinkly with flaked sea salt and some lavender buds if desired.
- When the prawns are ready, remove from oven and plate the prawns and the sauced bread quickly. You can sprinkle them with a little chopped parsley if you like the look of greens among all of that gold and red, but I was happy with it as-is, with a few piercingly purple-blue lavender buds scattered on top.
Black tea with a touch of honey or coffee will work equally well with this. Or, if doing this for dinner, a crisp white wine would work really well too. The sauce, for the record, tastes utterly amazing and the toasted sourdough is great for sopping it up after the prawns are all gone. Just thought you should know. ;)