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Pine-smoked mussels

Most of Steve's favourite food experiences have been in the company of River Cottage pals, chief forager John Wright and previous River Cottage head chef, Gill Meller. Not only are they good company, they are also generous with their knowledge. They taught Steve this way to cook mussels, which derives from the French technique, éclade de moules. The spectacle equals the taste, the burning pine needles imparting a fantastic flavour.

Method

Scrub the mussels well under a cold running tap and trim away the wiry beard from the side of the shell.

Discard any mussels that are damaged or open (unless they close readily when you give them a sharp tap against the side of the sink).

Set a large metal tray outdoors supported on a flat surface, away from anything that could catch fire.

It could be on a kettle barbecue or a bed of slate.

Scatter a layer of pine needles over the tray.

Lay the cleaned mussels hinge side up and side by side on top, then lay another stack of pine needles over the top, about 20cm high.

Set fire to the pine needles in several places, all upwind of the tray, and give them a good blow to get them going.

Once the pine needles have completely burnt up (5-8 minutes) the mussels are ready to take out - carefully as the shells can be hot.

Place a pan over a medium heat and add the butter, olive oil and garlic.

Cook for 1 minute, then add the spinach, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until wilted.

Add the pine-fired mussels in their shells, season with salt and pepper and heat through.

It's important to cook mussels properly, especially if you've foraged them yourself, although the heat from the pine needles should have done the trick.

Serve at once.

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Ingredients

  • 2kg mussels
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For smoking

  • A forager's basket full of very dry pine needles

Equipment

  • Kettle barbecue

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage Curing & Smoking Handbook