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*
- 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
- Finely dice the wine.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mollycoddle over low heat until softened – this should take around 5-10 minutes. Stir continually to ensure it doesn’t burn.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Serve with crusty bread and a cheeky glass of chardonnay, insolent sauv blanc or refreshingly courteous riesling. Easy-peasy!**
*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.