Winter-Island Mussels

Winter-Island-Mussels-2Right now, I’m sitting at a small coffee-table in a cute little house peeking out from under a comfy reed-cap, listening to the crashing storm-chased waves of the North Sea rolling in just behind the dam. The time for our traditional winter-vacay on Germany’s northernmost island, Sylt, has arrived. When my parents started heading out this way in the dead of winter on a regular basis, I honestly thought something else was going on – secret trips to the Caribbean came to mind – because… who in their right mind would travel to the main land’s icy-sea-storm-barrier at that time of the year? Right…?

Well, when they took us along for the ride for the first time, we either lost our marbles too, or the rough, ragged, windy and beautiful scenery of a sleeping Sylt in January – our usual travel time – is simply the perfect time and place to be. You probably know how mood-crashing and downright craptastic bad weather can be on any trip you take. Well, the North Sea in winter equals flash-of-lightning-quick – quite literally – changes of the weather. Sudden storms, hail and sheeting rain. Followed by equally sudden blasts of sunshine and sand-infused snowstorms, sometimes even at the same time. All seasons with all of their facets over the course of a day or less. Breathtakingly beautiful if you expect it – and dressed accordingly. We’ve been returning here every year since~
This time though, thanks to the reed-thatched roof of our usual house needing some TLC in January, we’re able to experience a whole new face of the island in early March. The beaches are, of course, still empty and seemingly endless, the herbs and weeds of the salt meadows and the scraggly, windblown trees growing on the dunes around the tidelands are starting to put on their spring dresses already, however. I think, after we’ve had some time to soak up all of this, the island’s hold on us will have increased exponentially…
Which brings me to today’s dish~! During our first stay up here, I found myself sitting in front… well, behind, to be honest… a huge steam-pot-thingymabob, the upper part all but overflowing with mussels freshly harvested not more than 500m away from the restaurant. Ignoring the snarky “the pot’s bigger than her” commentary from random people sitting nearby was easy enough, I was busy having a major blast working my merry way through the admittedly absurd amount of mussels, veggies and delicious sauce. Too full to move myself over to the kitchens in an even remotely dignified manner to try and get my hands on the recipe at the time, I went ahead and tried to recreate the dish the first chance I got once we were back home. Of course it’s not a 1:1 copy of the original – where’s the fun in that? I’ll gladly wait a year for my next dose~! – but I went with a couple of that memorable batches’ ingredients which I hadn’t used in my mussel dishes until then, to keep the memory alive. So, whenever I start to feel the islands pull during the rest of the year, I cook up a steaming bowl of these “Winter-Island” mussels~

1kg Mussels
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
1 Tsp Chilli Flakes
5 Sun-dried Tomatoes, finely chopped
1 Spring Onion, thinly sliced into rings
1 Tsp Pimenton Dulce
1 Tsp dried Herbs de Provence
1 Pinch of Salt and Pepper
1 Clove of Garlic, finely chopped
2 heaped Tbsp Calamata Olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Tbsp Pastis – pour an extra glug into a glass of ice-cubed water while you’re at it. Cheers~!
400g canned Date Tomatoes, preserved in juice

1) Place a pan large enough for the mussels on medium heat, add the oil and stir-fry the onions, garlic, bell pepper and dried tomatoes until the garlic turns golden.
2) Deglaze the pan with the Pastis.
3) Stir in the herbs and spices.
4) Add the tomatoes and olives, then turn the heat to medium-high.
5) Cover the pan with a lid and leave the sauce to cook for 5 mins.
6) Add the mussels and close the lid again. Shake the pan to distribute the mussels more evenly.
7) Steam them for ~4-5 mins until the ones on top open up.
8) Pour yourself a glass of wine, lean back and dig in with some bread.



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