Fried Mussel Po’ Boys

Long-time readers (hello, and thank you) will remember my phase of Project Sandwiches – those which took time and effort but meant I could happily spend the day baking bread and pickling vegetables then sit down with a brilliant sandwich at the end of it.

I made huge meatballs subs; chicken sandwiches which involved roasting a whole chicken with 40 cloves of garlic then making mayonnaise with its fat; salt beef (and corned beef); banh mi; burgers; sabich and, of course, po’boys.

This fried mussel po’boy is a variation on the classic shrimp filling. Mussels are cheap and sustainably farmed so I’m making an effort to eat more. Is it a faff deep-frying mussels? Absolutely yes. We had to steam them open, pluck them from their shells, coat them in cornmeal then fry them but they did make an excellent filling once tossed with Old Bay seasoning. I suffer for my art.

We piled them into sub rolls with homemade garlic and gherkin mayo which I finished with a bit of smoked olive oil, a spicy pickled salad of finely diced sweet white onion, bell pepper and celery, lots of shredded lettuce, some celery leaves and Peckham Smoker hot sauce. It was memorable: mussels hot from the fryer, rich smoky mayo, piquant salad and pops of searing chilli heat.

If you ever make this I must warn you that your kitchen will smell like fried mussels for at least two days. We opened all the windows and sat shivering for an hour in front of Masterchef, The Professionals which took the edge off a little bit but it really was quite the funk. Have I put you off making this sandwich yet? If I have then I’m sorry – project sandwiches are best suited to the truly dedicated.

Fried Mussel Po’Boy Recipe

(makes 4)

1 kg live mussels
4 white sub rolls (or baguette)
Iceberg lettuce
2 eggs lightly beaten
Plain flour
Coarse polenta
Old Bay seasoning

For the pickled salad

1.5 sweet white onions, finely diced (these are smaller and sweeter than regular brown-skinned onions – just use a small regular one if you can’t find any/can’t be bothered)
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
2 green chillies or jalapenos, finely sliced
2 ribs celery, finely sliced
120ml white wine vinegar
1 heaped teaspoon caster sugar
2 large pinches salt

For the mayonnaise

2 egg yolks
100ml flavourless oil
30ml smoked olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 gherkins, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Begin by making the salad. Mix everything together well. Set aside and give it a stir now and then while you make the other elements.

Make the mayonnaise. I find this easiest in an electric mixer. Add the egg yolks then slowly begin adding the flavourless oil drip by drip, then in a thin stream. When it’s all incorporated add the lemon juice, mustard and garlic and whisk in. Slowly add the smoked olive oil. Tip into a bowl then season with salt and add the gherkins.

Clean the mussels by pulling off any beards. Give any that are open a sharp tap on the work surface – if they don’t close they are dead – chuck those ones away.

Heat a few splashes of water in a large pan. Once hot add the mussels and put the lid on until they open. Remove them from their shells, chucking any which haven’t opened (dead).

Get three plates or shallow bowls ready – one covered with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, one with the beaten eggs and one covered in polenta. Coat the mussels first in flour, then in egg, then in polenta. It’s easier if you use one hand for dry stuff and one hand for the egg.

Heat a large pan or fryer with vegetable oil to 180C. Fry the mussels in batches until golden brown (a few minutes). Drain on kitchen paper and put in a very low oven or under a low grill to keep warm while you fry the rest.

To make the sandwiches split the sub rolls, add mayonnaise, salad, lettuce and loads of mussels. Top with extra Old Bay seasoning and hot sauce. Congratulations, you have made a Project Sandwich.