Remember how I was saying last week that it’s worth buying a cookbook even if you only make a few recipes from it? I got Nigel Slater’s new cookbook, Tender, as a Christmas gift this year. So far I’ve only made two recipes from it — a cauliflower gratin and this chowder — and I would buy the book for these two recipes alone. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to making more. This chowder knocks the socks off any I’ve had in Smugglers Creek Inn in Co. Donegal, O’Dowd’s in Co. Galway or PJ O’Hare’s in Co. Louth, which all make excellent versions. But this isn’t for the faint-hearted or calorie-conscious (and it isn’t exactly kid-friendly either) — see that broth in the soup? It’s nothing but cream and vermouth, and it’s incredible. I mean died-and-gone-to-heaven kind of good.
Mussels, Leek and Bacon Chowder
adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater
Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people, ahem)
You could turn this into a pasta dish similar to one featured in River Café Two Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers by omitting the potatoes and using it as a sauce for 1 lb (450 g) of ditaloni or penne pasta.
3 leeks, white and light green parts only
5 oz (140 g) smoked streaky bacon
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
2 1/4 lb (1 kg) mussels
2 glasses vermouth or white wine
1 lb (450 g) baby potatoes
7 fl oz (200 ml) heavy cream
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
a few sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
crusty bread, to serve
Thinly slice the leeks and rinse them thoroughly. Cut the bacon into short, thin strips and put them in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with the butter. Let the bacon color lightly over a moderate heat. Turn down the heat, add the leeks and cover with a lid. Leave them to cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and sweet — they should not color. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, check the mussels and pull away any beards. Discard any mussels that are broken, open or exceptionally heavy. Put them in a large pot, pour in the vermouth or wine and cover with a lid. Place over a high heat until the mussels have opened — this will only take a few minutes. Remove the mussels from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon (don’t throw out the liquid!). When cool enough to handle, remove each mussel from its shell. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and set aside.
Quarter the baby potatoes or cut them into large dice, depending on how big they are. Put them in a saucepan with 14 fl oz (400 ml) of the strained mussel cooking liquid. Add the cream, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and a little freshly ground black pepper (no salt). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat so the potatoes simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
Add three-quarters of the cooked potatoes to the leeks and bacon. Put the remainder in a blender with the cream (pick out the herbs first) and blitz very briefly until smooth (don’t process this for too long or the potatoes will turn gummy). Pour into the pot and add the mussels and parsley. Bring everything to the boil again, then serve with plenty of crusty bread to mop up every last drop. (Or just lick the bowl clean. No one will fault you.)