I tasted my first mussel at the age of eight. I remember looking at the pile of shells and thinking, I’m never going to eat those, but my mum said, ‘Don’t look at them, darling, just eat them,’ so I did. Once I figured out how to use an empty shell as pincers to grab the meat from the other shells, I went through the whole bowl in no time flat. Mussels are one of the most sustainable types of seafood. They can be cultivated on a large or small scale, they clean the water around them, take literally 4 minutes to cook and are nutritious and wonderful to eat … I can’t think of any negatives! What are you waiting for?
Quickly wash and debeard all the mussels (pull off any bits that look like wire wool), discarding any that won’t close (your fishmonger will do this for you if you ask in advance). Trim, wash, then finely slice the leek and the stick of celery, reserving any of the delicate yellow leaves for sprinkling over later. Put a really wide, deep pot on a medium heat and add a lug of olive oil and a knob of butter, along with the sliced leek and celery. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened, then flake in the smoked haddock and pour in the whisky – feel free to light it with a match to burn off the alcohol if you want. I think this adds to the flavour, but don’t set yourself on fire.
Next, add the mussels and single cream. Stir and shake the pan, put the lid on and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or literally just until the mussels have all popped open – discard any that haven’t. Use a slotted spoon to move them to a large serving platter or bowl. Leave the pan of cooking liquor on the heat and let it bubble away until it thickens to a consistency you’re happy with. While that’s happening, roughly chop the parsley, then add it to the pot and shake it about. Have a quick taste of the sauce, correct the seasoning if it needs it, and pour all over the mussels. Scatter over any celery leaves, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve straight away with fresh or toasted hunks of bread for a beautiful hearty lunch or dinner.