Away and home: Canadian (Quebecois) mussel chowder

Leaving the food of Europe behind (for now) and jumping over to the Americas feels like we’ve really made some progress in this cooking journey. We started in Wales and have made our way through most of Europe, Asia and Oceania, discovering so many new dishes (and ingredients) along the way. Now we’re embarking on a whole new region, starting with Canada, which we are excited about – but which also posed a problem.

Many of you will be aware that Canada’s national dish is poutine: fries, cheese curds and gravy. Poutine seemed to experience a bit of a rebirth in London a couple of years ago, probably partially because of the ‘it’s cool to eat really unhealthy food and Instagram it’ age we’re in. (Speaking of which, remember that you can follow us on Instagram @goodfoodonbadplates – with very little unhealthy food, in fact!) We’d never actually tried it though, so the idea of making our own was quite fun… until we realised that we don’t have a deep fryer so wouldn’t be making brilliant fries, didn’t know where we’d get cheese curds from, and probably wouldn’t make gravy worthy of this revered dish.

Again, we were saved by Roast Figs Sugar Snow, which provided a recipe for Quebecois mussel chowder with cod and cider, meaning our Canadian recipe had been decided upon. We didn’t feel as though we could let this occasion go by without eating poutine though, so we trekked up to Brick Lane Market last Sunday to track down The Poutinerie, a market stall set up by a Canadian chef who wanted to bring his native dish to appreciative Londoners. It was worth the journey for crispy and piquantly-spiced fries, melty cheese curds and delicious gravy!

816a Brick Lane Market compressed

817a Poutinerie compressed

818a Poutine compressed

Fortified, we came home and began the arduous task of cleaning and debearding mussels. Don’t underestimate how long this will take, especially if your fishmonger gives you lots of tiny mussels in your one-kilogram bag (like ours did)!

Mussel chowder

Ingredients
1kg mussels
500ml dry cider
30g butter
2 leeks, cleaned and cut in fine rings
400g potatoes, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks
100ml double cream
400g cod fillet, skin removed and cut into 4cm chunks
Pepper
Squeeze of lemon
Flat leaf parsley, chopped

Method
1. Clean the mussels, scrubbing the outsides and removing the beards, and discard any that are damaged or open.
2. Put them into a large saucepan and add the cider. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened. Discard any that remain closed.
3. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the leeks and potatoes. Cover and sweat the vegetables in the butter and a splash of water over a low heat for about 15 minutes, until starting to soften. Add a little more water every so often to ensure that the vegetables do not burn.
3. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove them from the cider and take the meat out of most of them (or all of them if you like; the shells are just for presentation).
4. Add the cider and mussel juices to the leek and potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Gently mash some of the potatoes to slightly thicken the juices.
5. Add the cream and cod and, over a gentle heat, poach the cod for 2-3 minutes. Add the mussels to the soup and heat through.
6. Season with pepper and a good squeeze of lemon, scatter with parsley and serve.
Serves 4

819a Mussels compressed

820a Leeks and potatoes compressed

821a Mussels compressed

822a Mussels compressed

823a Chowder cooking compressed

824a Chowder cooking compressed

825a Chowder compressed

We served our chowder with some wholemeal bread (mostly because Ash thinks you can’t eat soup without bread), but this really is optional, as it was very hearty even without it. The bigger question, probably, is: was it worth the time-consuming hassle of cleaning the mussels? And the answer to that is yes, for the experience, but it’s probably not an experience we’ll repeat unless we happen to be somewhere like Scotland or New Zealand (or, indeed, Quebec) where we can actually get decent mussels. The dish was really tasty (we’re yet to find a Diana Henry recipe that isn’t, so no surprises there), but our South London mussels were average at best, which took away some of the excitement. If you have a good mussel supplier, though, go for it!

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