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Be inspired every day with Living North
plate with toasted bread topped with mussels on a board with mussel shells Andrew Montgomery
July 2022
Reading time 2 Minutes
A good recipe is like a piece of music. The ingredients are them musicians – the cellists, the flautists, and the percussionists. The cook is the conductor. Each element of this recipe is a recipe in its own right, a successful soloist, but in this particular arrangement, the orchestra comes alive, everything sings. If you haven’t baked leeks in the embers like this before, then you must, it’s one of the most delicious ways to cook them and the smoky, barbecued mussels are an utter revelation and epitomise cooking at its simplest.
  • 500g live mussels
  • 2 large leeks, rinsed
  • 2 thick slices of sourdough bread
  • a little extra-virgin olive oil, for trickling
  • lemon, for squeezing
  • a handful of dill or fennel tops
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the aïoli
  • 2 very fresh egg yolks
  • 2 pinches of sea salt
  • 2 very fresh garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 or 2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 2 small, salted anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 200ml sunflower oil
  • 150ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for trickling

Rinse the mussels under cold running water. You’ll need to pull away the grey beard and knock off any barnacles using the back of a knife. Discard any that fail to close after a tap. First, make the aïoli. Whisk all the ingredients except the oils together in a bowl. Combine the two oils in a jug. Now, start to add the oils in a thin trickle, whisking continuously. When the oil mixture starts to emulsify with the yolks, you can add it a little faster. If things have gone to plan, you will have a thick, glossy, garlicky mayonnaise. If it’s too thick, add a tablespoon of warm water to loosen it. Cover and set aside. Alternatively, you can make the aïoli in a food processor, trickling the oils in through the feed tube with the motor running.)

Your fire needs to be really hot before you start cooking, so make sure you have a nice bed of hot embers. Place the leeks straight on the hot embers, or lay them on a grill that’s as close to the fire as you can get it. Rotate the leeks at regular intervals and cook until they are deeply charred on the outside and feel soft in the middle. This can take 10–20 minutes. Once they are ready, transfer them to a board and cut them in half from top to bottom. Lift the tender centres away from the charred outer layer, roughly chop the flesh and place it in a bowl. Mix in a couple of big spoonfuls of aïoli and some salt and pepper. Set aside.

Place a grill over the (very) hot fire. Scatter over a layer of mussels. As they cook they should immediately start to open. Use a pair of tongs to turn them, so they cook evenly. You’ll notice the lip pull away from the edge of the shell – this is a good indication that the mussels are ready. Use tongs to transfer them to a bowl, discarding any that have failed to open. Grill the bread on each side, then trickle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Spoon the warm, dressed leeks on to the toasts. Pick the mussels from their shells and pile them on to the leeks. Squeeze over the lemon juice, and tear over the dill or fennel tops, if using. Serve at once.

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