Parmesan and Herb Mussels with The Chef’s Chimaera

Stuffed mussels


“I fucking hate mussels – fucking, fucking hate them boyo”

Tony spat the words at me like he was clearing his throat of some poison then promptly washed away any residue with a fresh gulp of Snake Bite – a lethal mix of Cider, Whisky and Lager  – we called it ‘The Chef’s Chimaera’ – a pretty apt description if you know your Greek Mythology.

“You’re a philistine Tony, you’re blind, the mussel is a gift from the Gods”

“Bollix! Fucking nasal-debris encased in barnacled-armour and tasting like the floor of a strip-club”

“The floor of a strip club? How could you even think to know that”?!

“Listen – until you have been face down in a titty-bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at 4am you haven’t lived – and such is the nature of such a thing that it’s inevitable at some point you’re gonna end up lickin’ the to speak….so, ya’ know….I know”

“Fuck me Tony – you are an enigma wrapped in a mystery mate – I point blank refuse to believe that the floor of a strip-club can taste as good as a mussel”

Tony’s face screwed up as the swig of Chimeara kicked in  – he looked at me through half closed eyes processing what I’d said before spiting back his response:

“Smart ass, that’s not what I meant”!

We were now on number four of a yet to be determined final tally of Snake Bites – still pretty early. We finished in the Kitchen less than a hour  ago at 11.00pm, wipe down, prep and lights out took all of 20 minutes…a record by any standard… service had been steady, no real drama unless you count a badly burned waitress and a broken finger drama and now we were 4 Snake-Bite deep on a wet Thursday in October.

We sat in the darkest recess of the Larington Hotel’s Resident bar just up the strip from The Kitchen. This placed stayed open 24/7 and catered to what we needed – hard and fast alcohol with no questions asked. The ‘Larry’ as we affectionately called it provided solitude and privacy – think Star Wars Cantina but without the Green skin and Wookies – it was a dive, untouched in decades and was frequented by quite literally the dregs of society. Tony and I of course did not consider ourselves dregs in any sense, we were well above that station but on occasion we were quite happy to ‘slum it’ if the need dictated.

The nature of our business in The Larry was deadly serious – the summer season was over…it died in September and we buried it last week…… our fridges, plates and menus now needed to reflect the changing of the gastronomic guard and the Larry provided the exact environment for us to plot and plan our October through December menus. The seriousness of this occasion was not just about getting a menu that would draw in punters and keep us in pocket but it was also about nailing the competition in the lean months ahead – we are  going into battle with every other kitchen within a 10 mile radius – we get this wrong and we were fuck-a-rooed for the Winter.

So, we would stay here imbibing on Chimeara until we nailed a winter menu and the top of the list….for me……had to be Mussels. This made sense – it was the start of the Mussel season, the fact that our back garden was the North Atlantic just made it all the more obvious – BUT – every other fucking joint along the coast would be doing exactly the same dish –  the classic Moules Mariniere plus Tony positively hated Mussels.

“So lets stuff the fuckers, Tony”

“Do what!? how do you stuff a mussel”??

“With terrific care and attention to detail…..look mate, every other place along the coast…5 miles left and 5 miles right of us are gonna be pulling in mountains of mussels and cooking them to order, but cooking the same crap… Moules Mariniere right”?

“Yeah…Moules A La Arse Hole more like but its a classic…it pays for itself”

“And so will ours…only 10% more”.

Tony set his pint on the table and leaned closer…..

“We pull in 1-Hundred weight in the morning, we will cook them in vino, shuck them, stuff them and serve them with the Triple Threat frites this is a winner Tony – this is a break from the normal and dull”!

“This is fish and chips you are reinventing here”

“Probably – but Tony….what a concept for Fish and Chips”!!

“Wait…stuff them with what exactly”?

“Golden breadcrumbs, lightly garlic-d, fresh parsley, maybe some sorrel and cheese”


“Pecorino Romano, its drier, its punchier, it’ll stand up to the stuffing”

“Christ boyo – you’re a genious – we can prep ’em and just sling them under the grill to order – 9 per person – 20 bills a pop”!

Tony’s face lit up like a Christmas Tree – he drained the Chimaere

“Ok…more….we need more boyo”

“OK – so I have this idea for Tongue……………………………………………………”


♠ Parmesan & Herb Mussles ♣

Prep time: 10 mins ♦  Cook Time: 8-10 mins ♦ Total time 20 ish mins ♦ Serves 2

  • Fresh mussels – 1 1/2 kilos
  • 150 grams bread crumbs
  • Fat bunch flat leaf parsley – chopped
  • Small handful Basil -chopped
  • 100 grams grated Pecorino cheese
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of cayenne ( I like the heat)
  • 1/2 medium red onion

Step 1:
Kick things off by prepping up the mussels – there are two stages to this, first ‘rip’ off their beards.
Step 2:
Next scrub the mussels under cold running water, get rid of any sea debris and barnacles. At this stage any mussels that don’t close up tight you need to get rid of – they are dead. To make sure tap the open mussel with the back of a knife and if does not react and close tight then bin it.
Step 3:
Because this is not the end cooking point I’m just steaming these open – this is not a Mariniere so there is no need for garlic, wine, etc,etc. Sling the mussels into a pot with a little water (or fish stock) just to get things going. Put on the lid and steam the mussels for about 4-6 minutes shaking the pot regularly (This might take a less time depending on how accommodating your mussels are)
Step 4:
When they begin to open and you can see the orange coloured flesh clearly they are done – get them out and away from the heat. Another important point here – any mussels that have not opened or any you have to force open are dead – sling them in the bin
Step 5:
Open all the mussels and separate meat from shell. Keep half the shells and place 2-3 mussels on the half shell, I use sea salt on a baking tray to keep them steady and up right.
Step 6:
To make the stuffing – run the knife through the onion, basil and parsley – zest the lemon and grate the cheese
Step 7:
In a pan saute the onion until just soft in about 100 grams of butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
Step 8:
To make the stuffing simply combine the basil, parsley, cheese, cayenne, onion and lemon with the bread crumbs – season to taste, you want this punchy.
Step 9:
To stuff the mussels spoon a small amount of the stuffing directly onto the half shell and press it down to form what looks like a little mound.
Step 10:
Sling these beauties under a screaming hot grill for about 4-6 minutes or until they are golden crisp brown – watch like a hawk!!


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