Charcoal mussels with asparagus salad and curry mayonnaise
serves 4 as a starter
This is a fun dish to serve as a starter or light lunch. Mussels and curry partner well, and the asparagus salad is an ideal complement.
2kg live mussels
250g (2 packets) charcoal wafer biscuits
100g plain flour to dust
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Oil for deep-frying
2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
30ml white wine vinegar
300ml curry oil
For the asparagus salad
20 asparagus spears
4 tsp white wine shallots
2 tsp chopped coriander
1 tsp onion (nigella) seeds, toasted, plus an extra
sprinkle to finish the mayonnaise
A little curry oil
Cornish sea salt
Wash the mussels and pull away the hairy beard attached to one end of the shell. Discard any that are open and refuse to close when sharply tapped, and any with damaged shells.
Place a large saucepan (one with a tight-fitting lid) over a high heat. When hot, add the mussels and pour in the water. Cover with the lid and cook for 2 minutes, or until all, or most of them, are open. Tip into a colander over a bowl to catch the liquor. When cool enough to handle, pick out the meat from the shells; discard the shells, including any that are unopened. Let the mussel meat cool.
Finely grind the charcoal wafers in a blender. Put the flour, eggs and charcoal crumbs into separate bowls. Pass the mussels through the flour, shaking off excess, then the eggs and finally coat in the crumbs. Set aside on a tray.
For the mayonnaise, put the egg yolks, garlic and wine vinegar into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, then with the motor running, slowly add the curry oil in a steady stream. If it gets too thick, add 1 tsp water, then continue. Season with salt, spoon into a bowl and set aside.
For the salad, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Trim the asparagus and peel the lower end of the stems, then blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh in ice-cold water. Drain and pat dry. Slice the asparagus thinly on the diagonal and place in a bowl with the white wine shallots, coriander and onion seeds. Add a drizzle of curry oil, season with salt and mix gently.
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or other suitable deep, heavy pan to 180°C and deep-fry the mussels, in batches as necessary, for 2 minutes until crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with salt.
Share the salad and mussels between plates and serve the curry mayonnaise on the side, topped with a sprinkling of onion seeds.
For the curry oil
4 tsp mild curry powder
400ml light rapeseed oil
Sprinkle the curry powder into a dry frying pan and toast over a medium heat for 1–2 minutes until it releases its aroma; don’t let it burn. Pour the oil into the pan and remove from the heat. Give it a good stir and then pour it into a jug. Leave to infuse and settle for 24 hours, then decant the curry oil into another container. It will keep for 3 months in a dark cupboard.
For the red wine shallots
4 large banana shallots, peeled
150ml red wine
75ml red wine vinegar
75g caster sugar
Cornish sea salt
Slice the shallots into fine rings and place in a clean container. Put the wine, wine vinegar and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt. Pour the hot pickling liquor over the shallots, make sure they are submerged and leave to cool. Seal and leave for at least 12 hours before using. Stored in a sterilised jar in the fridge, these pickled shallots will keep for 3 months. White wine shallots: Finely chop rather than slice the shallots. Proceed as above, using white instead of red wine and wine vinegar.
Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen (Quadrille, £20) Photography © David Loftus