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Monday, February 22, 2010

Stomachs Eleven: Mussel mania

It started at Bathers.

As we slurped and scraped our way through the bowl of mussels on the table, the G-man suddenly asked "Do you remember the time we had the all-you-can-eat mussels at Bungalow 8?"

I nod, ruefully.

"We had four pots!" Gun declares proudly to the assembled throng. "Four kilos! Each!"

Heading shaking, I make a wan sort of smile. Oh yes, I remembered. I had eaten about ten mussels since then. In total. In three-and-a-half years. Gluttony has a way of getting back at you.

"Forget about all-you-can-eat," said Pig Flyin. "Mussels are easy. We should just cook our own."

Pimms with lemonade, mint and cucumber

This is why I love Pig Flyin.

Two days later, we are congregated at his place. M&L arrive with a styrofoam box filled with mussels from the fish markets--pre-washed to make the job easier--and once again we lay witness to the carefree but inmistakeable expertise of Pig Flyin in his element in the kitchen.

Kinkawooka Shellfish live pot-ready mussels

There are ten kilograms of mussels. It doesn't seem much, until we look around and realise that once again, Pig Flyin has prepared plenty of other dishes.

"Wait until you see dessert," says Mrs Pig Flyin with a wink. "I think we went a little overboard."

The G-man and I just look at each other and grin, our eyes sparkling with delight.

Cleaning the mussels

There are pots and pans, mis-en-place and herbs. Whilst Pig Flyin gives the mussels a quick scrub down in the kitchen, the G-man and I are sent off into the backyard to forage. "I need cucumber and mint and basil leaves," Pig Flyin says, and I trot out obediently before whispering to the G-man "what on earth do cucumber leaves look like?!"

We find them eventually. It's a garden that's filled with so many good things. I asked him for a list of what he grows in his garden - this is what he came back with:

  • habanero chili
  • jalapeno chili*
  • bay leaves*
  • Thai basil*
  • sweet basil*
  • bush crop cucumber *
  • dwarf beans*
  • mint*
  • cos lettuce
  • coriander*
  • flat leaf parsley*
  • Hungarian yellow pepper*
  • perilla (japanese basil, shiso)
  • lemongrass
  • rocket/arugula
  • eggplant
  • strawberries (very unsuccessful - as it should be)
  • zucchini
  • red mignonette lettuce
  • beetroot
  • "beauty heart" radish - a Chinese radish that Americans call Chinese watermelon radish
  • oregano
  • thyme*
  • French tarragon
  • broad beans (harvests much earlier in spring time)
  • cherry tomatoes
  • Burke's Backyard tomatoes
  • curry plant (my latest addition...)
  • fennel
  • kaffir lime
  • rosemary
  • rainbow chard - silverbeet with colourful stalk.
*Used in our mussel dinner tonight

Pan-roasted homegrown Hungarian yellow peppers with garlic cloves and salt

As we loiter in the kitchen, admiring the cooking show, we're plied with appetisers. The homegrown Hungarian pepers are not as lethal as they first appear. Simply pan-fried with whole garlic cloves and sea salt, the chillies take on a beautiful burnished colour, tasting more like yellow capsicums, sweetened by garlic.

Bagna cauda with homegrown vegetables

Bagna cauda is a warm Italian dipping sauce of anchovies, garlic, olive and butter that is perfect for dipping in raw or blanched crunchy vegetables. Most of the vegetables have come from Pig Flyin's garden and it's interesting to see how each complements the sauce. We're also quite greedy in trying to capture as much of the anchovy and garlic debris as possible. My favourite combination is the celery top, the leaves more sweet than bitter, and, coincedentally, a perfect vehicle for catching the anchovy and garlic smithereens.

Mussels in the pot

Clang! Clatter! Bang!

The sound of mussel shells hitting the bottom of a pot is magic. We're told that we're having mussels five ways tonight. I'm incredulous but salivating at the thought.

Mussel dish #1: Teochew-style with basil, garlic and chilli

There's a mass exodus from the kitchen when the chilli gets added to the frypan. Coughing our way back to the dining room, the fumes of chilli have dissipated by the time the dish is placed on the table. Our first mussel dish is Teochew style, served with garlic, fresh basil leaves and lots of finely sliced chilli.

The chilli kick to the mussels is a great way of awakening our tastebuds and getting our appetite going. The G-man, a chilli fanatic, declares this his favourite of the evening.

Hoegaarden Belgian wheat beer

Can you have mussels without beer? Our next course transports us straight to Belgium.

Cooking the mussels with garlic, cream and beer

Mussel dish #2: Belgian-style with garlic, cream and Hoegaarden beer

Mussels in Hoegaarden cream

Our second serve of mussels is a richer dish, bathed in a cream sweetened by garlic and the addition of Hoegaarden wheat beer.

Is it a winner?

The boys drinking up the cream sauce

Oh yes it is.

Mussel dish #3: Thai-style with green curry

There's a tangle of lemongrass stalks on the next interpretation. We jet back to Asia for the fiery spiciness of mussels served Thai-style with green curry.

Thai green curry mussels

The green curry paste has come from a can, but the flavour is phenomenal. There's plenty of backburn in the coconut sauce, but the shallots and lemongrass create an undertone of freshness. I also quite enjoy sucking on the lemongrass, much like a stalk of sugarcane, relishing the hit of lemongrass flavour as well as the green curry sauce soaked within.

Mussel dish #4: Italian-style - Mitilo alla Puttanesca

Puttanesca is said to have come about as a dish made quickly from larder staples and served to the women working in brothels. Puttana is the Italian word for whore, although others say the name origin comes from puttanata which means rubbish or leftovers.

Here, the thickened tomato sauce, rich with anchovies, olives and garlic, is a good match with the mussels. The highlight is the serving of garlic croutons on top, a spur-of-the-moment addition made whilst Pig Flyin waited for the last guests to arrive. I'm glad they were late. The sourdough bread cubes have been deep-fried and scattered with incredibly fragrant caramelised garlic.

Mussel dish #5: Mussels with shellfish bisque

Our mussel finale is the most decadent of them all. We conclude with mussels served in a shellfish bisque, made from prawn heads and scampi shells that Pig Flyin had been saving in the freezer. The bisque is rich and buttery, a deep shade of sunset yellow that glides down the throat.

Twice-cooked chips

And to mop up the sauce? We have thick slices of crusty sourdough but all the attention is on the twice-cooked chips. The potatoes have been par-boiled, spread out on a tray to dry in the fridge and then fried twice, once to cook and then a second time to crisp. They're amazing. The outside is beautifully golden and makes a mouthwatering audible crunch with every bite. Inside, the potato is soft and fluffy. It's a dish worthy of being served on its own.

The damage - 10kg of mussel shells

"So I hope you're ready for dessert," says Mrs Pig Flyin. "I think we probably made too many..."

"I was bored," says Pig Flyin apologetically.

Dessert #1: Strawberry balsamic granita
with macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries

The strawberry balsamic granita, Mrs Pig Flyin says, was apparently inspired by my strawberry balsamic cupcakes. The granita, made from a strawberry puree frozen with balsamic, is a lovely palate cleanser, especially enhanced by the macerated strawberries and plump blueberries.

Desserts #2 and #3: Burnt mango cream two ways
  • With coconut and lime sago cream
  • With coconut jelly and gula melaka caramel
There's an appreciative hush when the next dessert arrives. The burnt mango cream is beautifully presented in squat glasses, presented two ways because there had been leftovers so another variation was created. There's an Asian theme to both, the coconut jelly and mango cream offset by the slight bitterness of the gula melaka caramel. I relish the plump pearls of swollen sago in the other version, a little chewy and so light they're almost floating in the lime cream.

Dessert #4: Noble One jelly with poached white peaches

Noble One jelly with poached white peaches has an alcoholic kick, the soft-set jelly served in exquisite gold-tipped glasses brought back from Venice. Noble One is one of the most awarded desserts by De Bortoli. The bortrytis semillon is fragrant, sweet but complex and pairs well with the gently poached white peach, tinged with a blush of pink.

Poached white peaches

Dessert #5: Chocolate labneh cheese cake

Dessert number five looks rich and inviting. "It's not labneh is it?" I ask Pig Flyin, remembering a conversation I'd had with him last time.

He just smiles.

Chocolate labneh cheese cake
with freeze-dried raspberry and dark chocolate sorbet

Labneh is a style of Lebanese cheese made by straining natural Greek yoghurt overnight. It's easy to do and creates a thickened curd that's great on beetroot salads and more. Incorporated into a dessert, the chocolate labneh cheesecake is incredibly light but still possessing the depth of cocoa. Freeze-dried raspberries are crunchy puffs of tartness and a quenelle of chocolate sorbet provides an icy contrast.

"I am really sorry about force feeding you guys with desserts," Pig Flyin says again.

Oh no, the pleasure was all ours.

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2010 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Teochew feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Mole poblano and pulled pork tacos (Me)
Stomachs Eleven: Pizza and friends (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Ten kilograms of mussels (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Shanghainese banquet (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Wagyu shabu shabu and dessert sushi (Silverlily)
Stomachs Eleven: Stuffed deboned pig's head + nose-to-tail eating (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: French feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Whole suckling pig and Chinese banquet (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Hotpot night (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Crackling roast pork and black sesame cupcakes (me)
Stomachs Eleven: No ordinary steak dinner (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Polish feast (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2009 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Char siu and Hainan chicken (me)
Stomachs Eleven: Amazing impromptu dinner party (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Dumplings and Shanghai soy duck (M&L)
31 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/22/2010 06:00:00 am


  • At 2/22/2010 6:21 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh me oh my. I'm such a mussel-fanatic, yet have them so rarely because Canberra, being the only non-coastal capital city, doesn't always have great seafood on its menus. I did make them once, but the debearding was such a hassle. Liking these pre-cleaned ones!

    Love the look of the chilli ones the most! And 5 desserts? I bow down to both the cooks and the eaters!

  • At 2/22/2010 7:10 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    OHmygawwwdd. I think Pig Flyin in my hero. 10 kilos of mussels? 5 desserts?! And all those ingredients! I'm so incredibly envious. The hoegaarden cream sounds amazing and I love the idea of using labneh in a cheesecake :)

  • At 2/22/2010 7:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pig flying is the real FOODIE!! Bowing down to the master :) 5 desserts!! Please force feed me.......

  • At 2/22/2010 8:05 am, Anonymous Rachel said…

    Wow! Pig Flyin' is truly a master chef! Any chance of him sharing some recipes?

  • At 2/22/2010 8:58 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    a great looking feast as always. :-)

  • At 2/22/2010 9:55 am, Anonymous Margaret said…

    HOLY FRAP - talk about about a foodgasm. All those mussels.. and FIVE desserts?!! And Hoegaarden! And it's only Monday!! That chocolate labneh cheese cake looks heavenly. Who needs reality TV when you've got Mr & Mrs Pig Flyin'. I think I want to sleep in their herb garden. Excuse me while I salaam at their feet.

    Now it's back to drooling at my desk.

  • At 2/22/2010 10:07 am, Anonymous Tina said…

    That feast is just insane...!

  • At 2/22/2010 10:36 am, Blogger Sarah D said…

    yummo. Can i please request recipes for the cheesecake and beer and cream mussel? everything looks amazing though! :-)

  • At 2/22/2010 11:30 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pig Flyin' sure is a friend worth keeping! That looked like a hell of a meal. I'm envious!

  • At 2/22/2010 12:22 pm, Blogger Suyin said…

    Oh my goodness! I think you should do an interview with Pig Flyin' (and Mrs Pig Flyin')! What an incredible duo!

  • At 2/22/2010 1:31 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Just curious... what does Pig Flying do for a living? If it's something not restaurant or food related then he's missing his calling!

    Another masterpiece of a dinner from the maestro!

  • At 2/22/2010 4:06 pm, Anonymous Lisa said…

    The Noble One jelly with poached white peaches looks amazing!

  • At 2/22/2010 5:34 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    That all looks awesome and delish!
    I must find friends like Mr and Mrs Pig-Flyin!
    One recommendation, My mum makes the Teo Chew style mussels as well, but adds the flowers from the basil leaves and shallots leaves. It IS the best style, and we dip the mussells into a lemon juice with salt and pepper mixed in.

  • At 2/22/2010 8:04 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Love all the food but you know what? I ADORE the garden!!! Don't have to see it, just the list of stuff growing there and in the photos of what you've eaten, do Mr & Mrs Pig-Flyin live in the Garden of Eden?

  • At 2/22/2010 8:22 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Wow, what a meal. I really like the look of the mussels puttanesca. And sooo many deserts, you must have been full to bursting.

  • At 2/22/2010 8:35 pm, Anonymous kay said…

    this is what i call dedication.. wow!

  • At 2/22/2010 9:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love reading your posts about Pig Flyin's culinary masterpieces. The desserts look heavenly!

  • At 2/22/2010 10:50 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    Can I be Pig Flynns friend. Seriously love all your Stomachs Eleven post. The mussels look so delicious. Not to mention the twice cooked fries. Yum

  • At 2/22/2010 11:21 pm, Anonymous Mike@scallopsandpancetta said…

    i'd like to comment something original but every one of the other 19 people commenting before me has pretty much said it. WOW.

    I love the sound of Pig Flyin's Garden, and the food looked simply exquisite. I'm jealous that you have him as a friend. I really wish my mates would go to that much effort when they have me round for dinner! Amazing!

    The mussels take me back to Europe; I lived in France for a year and our local Mussel Restaurant (it sold nothing else) had cheap tuesdays, a different sauce every week. I was there nearly every tuesday for the full year.

    Serious kudos to Mr & Mrs Flyin', stunning food, beautifully presented.

  • At 2/23/2010 3:14 pm, Blogger mcpip said…

    This post is fantastic! I love reading it! Having a herb and veggie garden like that is my dream! And the peaches are just too cute!

  • At 2/23/2010 9:30 pm, Anonymous The Ninja said…

    You have a lot of gastronomic...



  • At 2/23/2010 10:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wooowww you guys always amaze mee, all those mussels and desserts XD and what an awesome garden they have!!! and yayy for Hoegarrden ^^!

  • At 2/23/2010 11:28 pm, Anonymous Amelia said…

    That cheesecake is tripping me out- i make lubneh all the time but i've never thought to do that with it!

  • At 2/24/2010 6:36 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mr & Mrs Pig Flying can force feed me anytime. Anytime. At. All.


  • At 2/24/2010 12:50 pm, Blogger Wine Esky said…

    That looks so great, desserts were amazing, I think if Pig Flyin is on My Kitchen rules, she'll definitely be the winner! Oh and great pics by the way!

  • At 2/24/2010 1:05 pm, Blogger ozbloggers said…

    anyway do join www.ozbloggers.com to share your blog with others please

  • At 2/24/2010 1:11 pm, Blogger ozbloggers said…

    anyway do join www.ozbloggers.com to share your blog with others please

  • At 2/24/2010 7:47 pm, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    OMG! What a feast! You are one lucky girl! I'd love to cook mussels one day and I simply love the Belgium-style one. I will attempt it one day as the boy LOVES Hoegaarden. And those desserts look AMAZING! I would love to try make the granita as well.

  • At 2/25/2010 4:01 am, Blogger Alice said…

    a very tasty post!
    the ones in cream and beer look so mouthwatering...
    I like your blog, I've added it in my favourite ones ;)


  • At 2/27/2010 10:44 pm, Blogger A Sydney Foodie said…

    I had the same problem of being unable to face a mussel after consuming just *one* pot of the stuff at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Cammeray.
    Did you feel at all queasy after having partaken in the mussels cooked five ways?

  • At 3/03/2010 2:33 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - Pre-cleaned mussels make a world of difference, and I hadn't really thought about mussels being hard-to-find in Canberra!

    It was an epic meal but five desserts - somehow there's always room!

    Hi Stephcookie - Pig Flyin is a culinary whiz. The Hoegaarden cream sauce was amazing and using labneh in a cheesecake was genius. Oh so tasty!

    Hi Ellie - lol. I'm easily force-fed too. We are definitely very lucky, and spoilt too!

    Hi Rachel - From what I've seen, he tends to just wing it, but I'll try to get the labneh cheesecake recipe out of him. Would love to make it myself sometime.

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - It's always a pleasure!

    Hi Margaret - Foodgasm indeed! Their herb garden is so inspiring and ha, I think I bags the doorstep. Good idea!

    Hi Tina - I know. I am always incredulous each time we eat.

    Hi Sarah - Will do my best!

    Hi Anon - I agree. Pig Flyin is worth his weight in gold. Edible gold!

    Hi Syn - Funnily enough, I have contemplated that before. Watch this space!

    Hi Karen - It's not food or restaurant related :) He's an amazing talent and yes, we have dropped plenty of Masterchef hints to him already!

    Hi Lisa - The Noble One jelly was a great idea. I loved the blush on the poached white peaches too.

    Hi Jane - Sounds like your Mum is a fantastic cook too. Lucky you!

    Hi YaYa - Ha, it may as well be the Garden of Eden as there's plenty of temptation. lol. I wish I had a green thumb. So much fun to explore his garden of edible treats.

    Hi Mark - I always look at the photos the next day and wonder why I didn't find a little more room!

    Hi Kay - I think I was saying wow all night. It was an incredible evening.

    Hi Ten - I love eating Pig Flyin's culinary masterpieces. lol. The desserts were all divine.

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - lol. I think there's a huge queue already. The twice-cooked fries were so tasty - possibly the best I've had.

    Hi Mike - Pig Flyin' is one-of-a-kind. The only (self-induced) stress is worrying about what to cook when you have him around for dinner in return. lol.

    Hi mcpip - The herb and vegetable garden was positively wondrous. Makes you feel like a kid again exploring how things grow. The peaches were beautiful.

    Hi The Ninja - lol. You should check out my digestive tract!

    Hi FFichiban - Ha, the Hoegaarden always has appeal. The garden is phenomenal - makes you realise the potential that everyone has in their backyard.

    Hi Amelia - I know. Labneh ingenuity! I've only just started using it for beetroot salads but in desserts? The options are limitless!

    Hi gobsmack'd - You and me both!

    Hi Wine Esky - Pig Flyin is male but lol, I agree! It wasn't hard to take great pics - the food is always plated exquisitely.

    Hi ozbloggers - Thanks for letting me know!

    Hi Phuoc'n Delicious - Mussels are so easy to cook really, that it does seem ridiculous that we all don't do it more often. I think the Hoegaarden cream sauce is a winner for everyone and the desserts were a non-stop procession of delights.

    Hi Alice - Thanks Alice, and the cream and beer sauce was probably my favourite too!

    Hi A Sydney Foodie - Just one pot? lol. I didn't feel queasy at all - the food was so divine that I couldn't wait to try the next sauce variation.


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