Cooking with Jamie

The other day a friend and I got talking about Jamie Oliver. She admired his simple, nutritious fare and found his raffish cockney charm endearing. I admired his simple, nutritious fare and found his inability to use verbs or adjectives in any meaningful way irritating. I was particularly galled by his habit of describing pretty much every dish in his repertoire as either “cheeky” or “pukka”, depending on its grammatical gender. What’s so impudent about a jar of chutney, for heaven’s sake? Why in god’s name was he forever “smashing” up avocado and “bashing” bits of garlic? Couldn’t he just chop them up with a knife like a normal person? Not to mention all the irrelevant banging on about mandolins and other musical instruments…

We couldn’t come to an agreement on Jamie Oliver so began to argue about mussels instead. She maintained that they were delicious but incredibly complex and fiddly to prepare. I maintained that they were delicious and that cooking them was a relatively quick and simple task. She demanded to know if I’d ever actually done such a thing myself. I said that, yes, in fact I had. She demanded to know how. So I sent her this recipe.

Insouciant Mussels, Jamie Oliver Style*

Serves 2


Jamie Oliver gets hand horribly mangled in fan after attempting to throw javelin during 2010 TED talk. (No, not really.) Image by Suzie Katz, available at Image available under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

Jamie Oliver gets hand horribly mangled in fan after attempting to throw javelin during 2010 TED talk. (No, not really.)
Image by Suzie Katz, available at  and used under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

  • dry white wine (if you don’t have a dry white, a wet one will do)
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion (preferably of noble mien and with an upright, unimpeachable character; also organic, if possible)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • (optional) pinch of dried chili flakes or 1 small fresh chili, finely minaretted
  • 1 400g tin of diced tomatoes
  • 1kg of cleaned mussels (clams or pippis also work)
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves


  1. Finely dice the wine.
  2. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep saucepan. If you want to use more oil then do so – you’re an independent adult and can make that call.
  3. Hack up the onion with a knife, or better yet, a hacksaw. If you have a really cutting sense of humour, use this instead and reduce washing up. The pieces should be roughly one-eighth of the size of a Russian kopeck.
  4. Bludgeon the garlic a few times with a pestle. If you don’t have a pestle, try a brick, baseball bat or whatever weapon you happen to have handy. Check that it’s unconscious then slice it with a cello or other stringed instrument.
  5. Toss the onion and garlic into the saucepan. If you’re using the chili, hurl that in too. Flavour with salt and pepper to taste, but bear in mind that mussels are naturally salty so you don’t want to go overboard.
  6. Mollycoddle over low heat until softened – this should take around 5-10 minutes. Stir continually to ensure it doesn’t burn.
  7. Add a few glugs of wine. If it’s not gluggy enough, add more – ideally you want to use about a cup. Let it roil and brood for a few minutes until the alcohol has worn off and it’s OK to drive.
  8. Dump your tomatoes in the pan. (Don’t feel guilty about dumping them; they’ll meet someone else soon – someone better than you too, most likely.)
  9. Heave the mussels into the pan as if they were the corpses of pirates wrapped in sailcloth. As soon as they open (this should only take a few minutes) pick them out of the pan with tongs, pliers or one of those contraptions public transport officers use to pick up rubbish left on the train.  Set them aside in your serving bowls. (NB. You can also delegate this task to a trained budgerigar or other bird with a suitable beak. Not a flamingo under any circumstances though – they are not to be trusted.)
    Make your own call about any unopened mussels – generally though, if they smell fine, they’re OK to eat.
  10. Cook the sauce for a few minutes longer until it thickens. If it’s not thick enough, show it back to back episodes of “The Bachelorette”. When you’re happy with it, slosh it over the mussels in the manner of a vengeful (yet simultaneously just, merciful and loving) god unleashing a deluge upon the earth.
  11. Tear the basil to pieces like a pack of wolves descending upon a starving peasant. Strew it about with reckless abandon and a complete lack of decorum. (NB. strew mainly on the mussels rather than the room at large.)
  12. Serve with crusty bread and a cheeky glass of chardonnay, insolent sauv blanc or refreshingly courteous riesling. Easy-peasy!**
The finished product

The finished product, badly photographed.

*ie. embellished with loads of distracting verbs and adjectives divorced from their actual meanings. Not a Jamie Oliver recipe or in any way endorsed by Jamie – though I’m sure he’d give it the double thumbs up if he tried it.

* *I was going to end with “lovely-jubbly!”, which is of course the more traditional Jamie Oliver sign-off, though it always makes me picture those wobbling plates of raspberry jelly so ubiquitous in Enid Blyton books; gleaming miniature castles more architectural marvel than dessert. “Lovely-jubbly” also seems to have vaguely lecherous undertones – the sort of thing that a plump and plodding English postman with a tendency to drool over the knees of primary school girls might say. “Easy-peasy” it is then.


About bakersdaughterwrites

What to say? I’m a 30-something year old woman from Sydney notorious for changing her mind. I have a cat named Seraphina Nightingale, whic
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3 Responses to Cooking with Jamie

  1. I found the ‘Naked Chef’ series quite irritating but conversely find the 30 Minute/15 Minute Meals rather soothing. Perhaps it’s because there’s little time for asides and I can admire the focused way he knocks up a two course meal in the time it takes me to make a cheese toastie.

    I seem to remember reading an article in the Telegraph, more than a decade ago, by ‘Jill, Duchess of Hamilton’ (those were the days!) in which she referred to him as ‘the oik Oliver’. I doubt they’d print it now, given his current status – I was mildly flummoxed even at the time.

    All that ‘boys stuff’ style has got a lot of ordinary men cooking over here, though – which can only be a good thing – and the recipes are not only ones you can genuinely see yourself making, but are an absolute doddle to follow.

    Love the Enid Blyton ref and the postman – spot on in both cases!

    • Hi Victoria,

      I hope all is well in your part of the world. I agree with you that it is intensely reassuring to see someone fling together a balanced and impressive-looking dinner in a relatively short time. The charms of a perfectly-executed cheese toastie – especially one involving some type of tomato chutney – should never be underestimated however, regardless of how long it takes to assemble,

      I grew up on Enid Blyton books and am delighted that they seem to be making a resurgence – The Famous Five books are one of the most borrowed junior fiction series at my library at the moment. I would love to see someone do a TV show involving celebrity chefs cooking food inspired by famous books (not that I actually have a TV to watch it, mind you) and I do think Jamie Oliver and Enid Blyton would be a natural match. He could do some type of hearty picnic lunch that young detectives could eat on the moors in between bouts of spying on smugglers (preferably involving boiled eggs, cold mutton sandwiches, fresh tomatoes and jam tarts); a midnight feast for strapping young hockey players at boarding school (naturally consummated by lashings of ginger beer); a whimsical afternoon tea of pop biscuits and honey cakes from the Magic Faraway Tree – and all the ingredients could be retrieved from either the larder or ice chest.

      …I just got carried away by this idea and found this lovely article on how to eat like an Enid Blyton character –

      How would you eat like a P.G. Wodehouse character I wonder…?

      • It’s autumn here, though we’ve had little frost yet, and the clocks have gone back so it’s dark by five.

        Reassuring – yes. In a world of fairly general incompetence it makes me think ‘Well, at least *someone* out there knows what they’re doing.’

        I grew up on Enid Blyton too and loved them. A lot of people are quite sniffy about them, mostly because of the fairly bald descriptions, but, witness her immense readership, she got the child mentality spot on. All you need to know is that the sun is shining or that it’s raining torrentially, any additional information just holds up the action and the most important thing to a child is ‘What Happens Next???’. Her inventiveness and imagination were second to none and every ordinary child could have thrilling adventures along with the Famous Five, Secret Seven, the Five Find-outers or the Adventurous Four. They were a really easy read, the story just zipped along, all the loose ends were always neatly tidied up and cake and ice-cream was eaten at all times – absolutely brilliant.

        I think it’s the freedom they invoke that would make them so popular to today’s parentally fearful and restricted kids.

        Oh, the Magic Faraway Tree – inspired! I would love to read those again. There were three – what was the last one called?

        There was always a handy cave, with little ferns, that Anne used as a larder with a ‘crystal clear’ stream for water.

        Great link. I had some of those editions in the header. Oh dear – tempus definitely fugit.

        P. G. – hmm. Obviously one would have to start with a snifter or a brace of champagne cocktails. I suppose a lengthy dinner of French dishes cooked by Anatole. I don’t think he ever really mentioned any other type of meal. Bertie comes up with an elaborate menu to greet him on his release, after he anticipates being jugged in lieu of Aunt Dahlia, but I can’t recall which one it’s in. I’ll have to look it up.

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