risotto with mussels

There is plenty of advice out there about mussels. Most of it falls into the “do not” category: do not store them airtight containers. Do not eat any that aren’t tightly closed or don’t close when tapped. Do not eat if the shells are broken or cracked. Do not eat any that refuse to open – though according to the Australian Mussels Industry Association, that last one is a myth. Either way, a lot of people find mussels too complicated, or are put off by the preparation. Truth is, once you’ve done it, it’s super simple and the taste payoff is totally worth it. Buy, store, clean, cook. So easy.

Mussels are best cleaned a few hours before you eat them. Removing the beards, for example, can shock them and reduce their shelf life. To clean mussels, give them a quick scrub under cold running water to get rid of any grit and some of the looser barnacles. Grab the beard and pull gently along the edge of the shell until it comes away. That’s it. It’d take you longer to chop a large carrot.

Oh, and don’t even dream of substituting frozen or pre-shelled mussels for this recipe. When they open, the mussels release all their stock into the pan – a really important part of the flavouring of the broth.

This recipe comes from lucio galletto’s the art of traditional Italian which is such a beautiful cookbook everyone should own one.


(for 4 people)

around 1.5 to 2kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
300g arborio or carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 litre fish or chicken stock
4-6 petite blush tomatoes,
or 10-12 grape tomatoes, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
10-15 basil leaves
olive oil

In a small saucepan, heat the fish or chicken stock on a low flame and keep it beneath a simmer.

Heat olive oil, garlic, chilli and parsley in a large pot over medium heat to high heat. As the garlic begins to smell nice (but before it colours), increase the heat to high, toss in the mussels and stir. Cover the pot (with a glass lid if you have one) and steam, shaking occasionally, for four to five minutes. Once they’re all open, strain them into a colander inside a bowl so you can reserve the liquid. There shouldn’t be any need to season them as the liquid released is often salty enough. Remove most of the mussels from their shells, keeping a few for serving, and set aside.
In a separate, heavy-based pan, heat some olive oil over medium to high heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. When the rice starts to become translucent, add most of the tomatoes and stir, keeping aside a few pieces for later. Turn heat down to medium and pour in the reserved mussel liquid, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. When it is almost absorbed, add a ladleful of the fish or chicken stock and allow most of the liquid to be absorbed before adding another ladle. Repeat the process until rice is al dente.

Once the rice is cooked, remove from heat. Add the mussels, remaining tomatoes and most of the basil to the pot and fold through gently. Let it sit for a minute or two, then serve garnished with more basil.

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