An Ireland Travelogue + Beer-Steamed Mussels with Cabbage, Leeks and Smoky Bacon
There’s something magical about Ireland.
Dun Briste, Downpatrick Head, County Mayo, Ireland
We fell madly in love during our holiday earlier this year, gaining a special fondness for the country’s western coast affectionately known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Its fresh sea air, bracingly powerful winds, fields of scrubby heather, near-daily rainbows, and millions of scruffy sheep. Its rugged shores, dramatic cliffs and breathtaking views. Its universal small-town feeling and general friendliness graciously extended to wayfaring strangers.
Unsurprisingly we frequently found ourselves deep in conversation with the locals – typically about eating and drinking, preferably over a bowl of something steamy or a pint of something dark and frothy. In addition to their excellence at preparing their bounty skillfully and serving it generously, the Irish speak with intense pride about the things they grow, raise, harvest, make, brew and cook. There is literally a story behind every mouthful, and we attempted to unravel each.
The definition of a successful holiday for us is to not only seek the roads less traveled, but along the way collect delicious things to cook with. Standouts here ranged from heritage pork and parsnips to cured salmon and farmhouse cheeses. Blessed with 900 miles of coastline, we often turned to the Irish waters for our meals, and hidden in plain sight along the southern shores are some of the world’s best mussels. The freshest, sweetest, juiciest we’ve ever eaten.
To highlight the locally-harvested Roaring Water Bay mussels, we kept our recipe simple. To honor the region, a few Irish ingredients: smoky dry-cured bacon “rashers,” ruffly savoy cabbage, mild, grassy leek. And instead of the wine traditional in preparations such as this, an Irish wit beer from a new favorite brewery – several glugs for the mussels, the rest for the table. We easily ate a half-kilo each.
Ending our journey – like sopping up the juices in our bowls – left us wanting more. Bittersweet, but thankful for the experience and full of resolve to return some day soon.
Tell me… Do you have a similar method of travelling? What’s the one destination that’s stood out most to you?
- 3 lbs (1 1/2 kgs) medium fresh mussels
- 2 slices dry-cured smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes, per your desired level of heat
- 1 1/4 cups (10 fl. oz.) pale beer (such as a Kölsch, blonde ale, witbier or Gueuze), divided
- 1 small-medium savoy cabbage, cored and sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 small-medium leek, light green and white parts only, rinsed well and sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
- Kosher salt + freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Crusty bread or cooked pasta, for serving (optional)
- Rinse mussels in a large colander under cold water. Use your fingers or the tip of a sharp knife to remove any beards (hairy clumps around the shell), then scrub the shells well with your hands or stiff brush.
- In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet with a lid, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and set aside. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of the fat from the skillet. Back over moderate heat add the chilli flakes and stir in 1/4 cup of the beer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden or silicone spoon. When the beer begins to bubble, add the leek, cooking 2 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the cabbage and cook over moderately low heat, tightly covered, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted. Taste, and season with salt and black pepper, only if needed.
- In the meantime, add the remaining 1 cup of beer to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Add the mussels, cover and steam, shaking the pan a few times, until the shells begin to open, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove opened mussels to a large bowl. Cover the pan again and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes, transferring any opened mussels to the bowl. Discard and do not eat any that don’t open after 10 minutes.
- When all the mussels are removed from the saucepan, stir about 3/4 of the chopped parsley into the beer broth, taste, and season only if needed. Divide the cabbage and leek mixture between four wide bowls, topping each with 1/4 of the mussels. Pour some of the broth over top, then crumble over the reserved bacon, as well as the chopped parsley. Serve at once with crusty bread or your favorite pasta, and a cold beer. Sláinte!
An HGN original.
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