Mussel Pottage

A pottage is a thickened, substantial cross between a soup and a stew. I was drawn to this recipe by the lazy cook in me that is always looking for a simpler, easier way to achieve tasty food.

When this recipe was jotted down three hundred years ago, it would have been quite hard work to prepare: collecting the mussels, cleaning them, steaming them, straining the sand from the broth, etc.

Luckily for us, we have the luxury of buying what someone else has collected and cleaned, and also cooked. Whilst you can certainly buy fresh mussels in their shells and prepare them yourself, cooked mussels and prepared fish stock can bring this dish together in just minutes. I’ve been rather specific with the number of mussels, however you should feel free to increase this quantity with abandon, if so inclined.

Mussel Pottage

Serves 4

500ml fish stock
250ml water
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
2 blades mace
½ tsp ground allspice
150ml cream
3 large yolks
1tbs anchovy sauce
32 cooked mussels
30g butter
2tbs chopped parsley to serve

  • Put the stock, water, bread, spices and anchovy sauce into a pan and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, fish out the mace and purée with a stick blender.
  • Mix the cream, anchovy sauce and the yolks together and whisk into the soup.
  • Set aside 12 mussels for garnish and add the remainder to the soup. Warm gently.
  • When ready to serve, melt the butter in a pan and when hot, quickly toss the mussels set aside for garnish in the hot butter for about a minute, to heat through .
  • Serve garnished with the fried mussels and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Cockle and Mussel Puffs

Jane Parker, 1651 adapted from A New Booke of Cookerie, 1615

The availability of British seafood has increased dramatically with the introduction by the major supermarkets of dedicated fish counters staffed by professional fish mongers. No longer do we have to live close to our coastline in order to enjoy fresh seafood. Ideally, you would create this dish from scratch, and if you have the time and the inclination, it will no-doubt be superb. However, for those with limited time, by taking full advantage of pre-prepared seafood and ready-rolled puff pastry, this can come together in less than 30 minutes.

I first came across this recipe in the household manuscript book of Jane Parker (MS3769 at the Welcome Library). I subsequently discovered that she had copied it from John Murrell’s 1615 A New Booke of Cookerie, rephrasing it slightly and adding a little note to herself about changing the shape if frying them instead of baking. As noted elsewhere, Mistress Parker was not reticent about embellishing and improving the recipes she cherry-picked from the scant number of cookbooks of the day to suit her own style and preferences.

A Made dish of Cocokles and Mussels
From John Murrell’s A New Booke of Cookerie, 1615, p20
cocklepierecipe
From the manuscript book of Jane Parker, MS3769 at the Welcome Library

I have refrained from chopping the seafood as finely as suggested, much preferring to allow the constituent parts to be both distinguishable and identifiable omce the crisp pastry reveals it’s contents. I have added only pastry decoration to the original recipe.

Cockle and Mussel Puffs

200g cooked cockles
200g cooked mussels
4 large yolks
¼ tsp pepper
pinch of salt
a little grated nutmeg
60ml white wine
60ml orange juice
2 sheets puff pastry
1 large egg for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
  • Mix the cockles and mussels in a bowl.
  • Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons of the orange juice with the yolks and stir to combine.
  • Pour over the cockles and mussels and toss gently.
  • Taste and add more orange juice if liked, but beware of making the mixture too wet.
  • Roll the pastry sheets lightly to smooth, then cut four strips of 1cm width across the shorter side of each pastry sheet. Leave one sheet for the bases, and roll the second sheet thinner (tops), to fit overthe filling easily without stretching.
  • Moisten the edges of the bases and use the strips to build up a border around the edges.
  • Divide the solid part mixture evenly between the four bases and spread out. Don’t worry about adding the liquid at this stage, wait until the pies are sealed.
  • Moisten the pastry strips with a little water and lay over the lids.
  • Brush the border with water, then lay over the lids, pressing around the filling firmly to seal.
  • Trim the edges to neaten. Use a pastry or pizza wheel, or a neat, vertical cut with a sharp, unserrated knife. The cleaner the cut, the better and more puffed the edges will become.
  • With the back of a knife, press down all around the pie, 5mm from the edge, to seal.
  • Brush the tops of the pies with beaten egg, making sure none drips down the sides, as this will stick the pastry layers together and stop them from puffing up. Cut a vent hole to let out steam during cooking.
  • Divide any leftover liquid between the pies, pouring it through the vent hole.
  • Use pastry offcuts to shape some decorations. Leaving these pieces unglazed will make them stand out more against the glazed pastry.
  • Transfer the pies to a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, turning the baking sheet around 180 degrees after 6 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Serve immediately.