Onions have always had a slightly awkward relationship with fish. They seem particularly ungainly and rough edged alongside the white varieties or shellfish. Shallots work better, with their milder notes and less significant dose of sugar, but of all the alliums, it is the leek that marries most successfully. The white of the leek has an elegance and subtlety that is unlikely to overpower any fish you put it with. In a soup or pie it dances with the piscine ingredients where an onion would probably tread on their toes.
is traditionally a hearty bowl of food. The one I make with mussels and bacon
is a short step away from the big clam and potato numbers I have eaten in Boston,
in that it is somewhat lighter and less creamy, but it is still essentially a
big soup for a cool day.
Enough for 4
smoked streaky bacon 150g
white vermouth 2 glasses
double cream 200ml
bay leaves a couple
thyme 4 sprigs
a few sprigs of parsley, chopped
Thinly slice the leeks and rinse them very thoroughly. No vegetable holds its grit like a leek. Cut the bacon into short, thin strips and put them into a deep, thick-bottomed pan with the butter. Let the bacon colour lightly over a moderate heat. Turn down the heat, add the leeks and cover with a lid. Leave them to cook for twenty minutes or so, with an occasional stir, until they are soft and sweet they should not colour. Remove from the heat.
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 and cover tightly with a lid. Put over a high heat till the mussels have opened (a matter of minutes), then remove each mussel from its shell.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large dice. Put them in a saucepan with 400ml of the mussels cooking liquor, drained through a sieve. Add the cream, bay, thyme and a little black pepper (no salt). Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat so that 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 briefly till smooth (too long and it will turn gummy). Pour into the pan and add the mussels and the parsley. Bring all to the boil and serve.