There is no introduction to this recipe by Grigson in English Food. I am never sure whether Jane did this because she didn’t want to, or whether she thought she didn’t need to. It turns out the recipe goes back quite a bit with a huge amount of similar recipes cropping up during the nineteenth century, including examples from stalwarts such as Eliza Acton (1845), Alexis Soyer (1850) and Elizabeth Raffald (1769). Recipes also crop up in their droves in American cook books of the nineteenth century.
#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels
We don’t know who Lisanne was/is, other than she was a mate of Griggers and that she made this recipe up on a whim whilst in France. The reason that it appears in English Food is that it is rather reminiscent of the old English recipes of cooking oysters with chicken. I have already done the steak, kidney and oyster pudding with great success, but the thought of a eating a chicken stuffed with mussels a little odd – and don’t forget the last mussel recipe I did was very odd. However, as we have discovered along the way, this damn book is full of surprises, so we shall see…
You need to get hold of a chicken that weighs around four or five pounds as well as a nice bag of fresh, live mussels that weighs around three or four pounds.
Begin by browning the chicken all over in some olive oil along with a large chopped onion and a chopped carrot in a flame-proof casserole. Add a bouquet garni (see here for some suggestions as to what you should put in it) and a quarter of a pint of dry white wine. Bring to a steady simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, open around two-thirds of the mussels in a very hot pan using another quarter pint of wine. Any mussels that remain closed should be discarded, Griggers says.* Pluck the mussels from their shells and carefully stuff them into the cavity of the now half-cooked chicken. Strain the cooking liquor from the mussels into the dish and tuck the remainder of the mussels all around the chicken. Season and cook for a further 30-45 minutes.
When the chicken is ready, remove it to a serving dish, scatter the mussels around it, and scatter chopped parsley all over it. Skim and strain the sauce into a sauceboat and eat with good bread – no vegetables required says Giggers, just a green salad to follow.
#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels. I must say I was very dubious about this one and continued to be dubious a few mouthfuls later. However, I put that down to the novel flavour combination because I soon realised it was very good! The chicken was beautifully succulent and the mussels tender, though cooking them this was gives the eater a real strong mussel-hit, but if you like your seafood, then certainly give this a go. The sauce made by the cooking liquor was divine. 7.5/10
*FYI: According to the telly programme QI, this is absolute nonsense and it is Jane Grigson who is to blame for this myth. The first mention of chucking out your un-opened mussels appears in Jane Grigson’s Fish Book and people have followed this advice evermore. However, there is actually no evidence that unopened mussels will poison you – in fact, you just as likely to be poisoned by a live mussel than a dead one. That said, I still chucked out my unopened ones!
#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly
“People sometimes shudder at the mention of roly-poly puddings” says the Grigson; er, no dear, just the idea of THIS one! Why on Earth is there no jam roly-poly pudding, please!? I’ve been putting off the more weird ones – like this – but they are building up now. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but Griggers really does big this one up. It is cheap though, at least when mussels are in season.
I have only recently been able to pluck up the courage to eat mussels; I’ve always been a bit squeamish with bivalves for some reason. However, I do love mussels now. The Romans loved them too, and they’ve been cultured in France since the late thirteenth century, ever since a shipwrecked Irishman called Patrick Walton was washed up on a French beach and noticed some mussels growing on the fishermen’s nets. I doubt he wrapped them in suet pasty though.
To begin you need to cook your mussels – 48 in all, says Grigson. Scrub them and remove their beards and any parasites. Place them in a hot, wide shallow pan and cover. As soon as the mussels open, take them off the heat. Don’t use any mussels that have not opened. Shell them, reserving any juices, and let them cool. Pass the juices through some muslin into a small pan.
Now make the rest of the stuffing: In a bowl, mix together 3 ounces of finely chopped onion, 2 trimmed and finely chopped leeks, 2 chopped rashers of streaky bacon, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley and a little salt plus plenty of ground black pepper.
Suet pastry is the easiest pastry to make. Sieve 10 ounces of self-raising flour in a large bowl and mix in a pinch of salt and 5 ounces of shredded suet. Using a knife or your hands, mix in some cold water until a firm and light dough is formed.
You are now ready to construct the rolypoly pudding. Roll the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle over the leek mixture leaving a centimetre border around three sides, and then evenly sprinkle over the mussels. Brush the edges with water and roll up the pastry starting at the borderless end, lastly press down the sides to prevent any leakage from the sides. Wrap it in a tightly-sealed but baggy foil parcel and steam for two hours on a rack in a self-basting roaster. If you don’t have one – use a normal roaster and make a foil lid as I did. When ready, place in an ovenproof serving dish and crisp it up in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes – careful now, it might collapse (see pic!). Whilst that is happening, make the butter sauce. Boil down the reserved mussel liquor, take it off the heat, and whisk in 4 ounces of chilled, cubed butter, bit by bit. Season well, add some chopped parsley, and it is ready.
#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly 4.5/10. I though I liked this in the end, but then I wasn’t sure; it certainly wasn’t awful. I even had seconds. The mussels were soft and sweet, the leeks were cooked nicely and the pastry was crisp. The sauce was good too. I think it was too rich, and I ate too much. An unusual one, but I’m not sure I would recommend it.