Mussels with Giant Couscous

I was flicking through Nigella Lawson’s Italian cookery book ‘Nigellissma’ and came across her recipe for Sardinian Couscous with Clams which looked delicious. Sadly I can’t get hold of clams in my local stores so I planned to try the same recipe with mussels instead. It turns out that fregola (Sardinian giant couscous) is also not very easy to get hold of! So as Nigella herself suggested that Israeli giant couscous could be a viable substitute I tried this instead.

I have never had the giant couscous before and it was super tasty – a really nice to change to having pasta. The original recipe can be found here, however I did make a few changes in quantities so I have described my adapted recipe below. I found it a little spicy with the dried chilli as it is stronger than fresh chilli, so if you don’t like heat at all reduce the chilli to a sprinkle. The sauce had a lovely rich flavour which is great to achieve in such little cooking time – a fantastic mid week dinner.

Some nice crusty bread would be a good way to soak up the juices at the end.

Ingredients (served two with no left overs!)

  • 500g mussels
  • olive oil
  • one large (echalion) shallot or 2-3 small shallots finely diced
  • one garlic clove minced/grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or more if you like it hot!)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 500ml chicken stock + about 250ml hot water
  • a glass of white wine
  • 100g giant couscous
  • small bunch of parsley chopped

Method (takes around half an hour from start to finish, including the prep)

Start by preparing the mussels (or clams if you choose to use these). Mussels always take longer than I think to sort through so it is best to get it out of the way before cooking. Give any that are open a sharp tap against the sink then leave aside to see if they close up. Sometimes they take a while to respond – make sure you don’t discard them too soon if they don’t respond immediately. Any that you are using need to have the beards pulling firmly out and any barnacles removed. For more details on preparing mussels see the guide here.

In a large saucepan sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil until tender, then add the chilli flakes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add half of the wine and allow to bubble for a minute before adding the tomato puree, stock and couscous. Simmer until the couscous is cooked (about 8 minutes).

Meanwhile, put the mussels and the rest of the wine into a separate saucepan. Put the lid on and cook over a high heat for 5 minutes. Check the mussels after this time, they should have opened up and be steaming in the liquor. I then added the cooking liquor with the mussel juices to the couscous for more flavour and put the mussels aside until the couscous was fully cooked.

I added a few extra ladles of hot water to the couscous mixture while it was cooking as it soaked up the 500ml of stock quite quickly. You might not need 250ml so add a bit at a time as you think it is required.

When the couscous is cooked, add the mussels to the saucepan and stir through the parsley. Check for seasoning – a good grind of pepper but it probably won’t need salt due to the mussels and the stock.

Serve in bowl with a extra one for discarded shells and lots of napkins!

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