Asparagus, mussel cream, rye

Asparagus, mussel cream, rye

Finding Fire

Growing up in the UK, I would always look forward to the English green asparagus season. It just tastes better than any asparagus in the world. Signalling the onset of spring, the brief availability of asparagus made it a short-lived seasonal treat.

Its natural sweetness soon dissipates after harvesting, which is why asparagus that has to travel from the other side of the world just isn’t the same. Asparagus is best eaten with the fingers and I encourage you to dip each spear in the rich mussel cream, the flavour of which is heightened by the burnt orange powder and the crunch of the toasted rye crumbs.


Quantity Ingredient
1 orange
2 slices dark rye bread
sea salt
500g live mussels, cleaned (see Note)
100ml fruity, mild extra-virgin olive oil, such as arbequina or koroneiki, plus extra for the asparagus
4 bunches asparagus spears
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
100g agretti (see notes)


  1. 1. Prepare your embers and arrange a grill cooling rack directly over the top.
  2. 2. Remove the peel from the orange, being careful to remove all traces of pith from the skin. Juice the orange and reserve. Toast the orange skin on the grill cooling rack 20 cm (8 in) above the embers. Remove from the embers, allow to cool and, using a mortar and pestle, pound to a fine powder Reserve.
  3. 3. Toast the rye bread on the grill cooling rack over the embers. Remove, allow to cool, then blend in a food processor to a coarse crumb. Season with sea salt.
  4. 4. Spread the embers evenly across the base of the grate and set the grill cooling rack close to the burning embers (approximately 2.5 cm/1 in).
  5. 5. Place the mussels on one side directly on the grill. Cover with a deep heatproof pan (to act as a lid) and cook for 2–3 minutes.
  6. 6. Using a pair of tongs, carefully transfer the mussels to a clean dish as they open, conserving as much of their juices as possible. Strain the juice into a saucepan.
  7. 7. Set the mussel juices over a medium heat and add the reserved orange juice. Reduce the liquid by half.
  8. 8. Remove the mussels from their shells, removing any beards with a small knife. In a food processor, blend the mussels to a smooth cream with the mussel-orange reduction and the olive oil. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve, chill and reserve.
  9. 9. Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends. Grill on the grill cooling rack 5 cm (2 in) above the embers for 3–4 minutes until tender and slightly charred. Remove and, while still warm, season with the lemon zest and juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  10. 10. Place the asparagus alongside a spoon of the mussel cream dusted with the toasted orange powder. Garnish the asparagus with the grilled rye crumbs and the agretti. Serve immediately.


  • To prepare the mussels, discard any that are chipped, broken or damaged in any way. Tap to check that the mussels are tightly closed, discarding any that are open. If necessary, remove the beard (or byssus thread), which is what attached the mussel to the rope or rock it grew on, and scrub clean. Soak in salted water for 30 minutes to purge any remaining impurities. Remove the mussels and rinse in fresh water before cooking.

    For the best flavour, only use asparagus when in season. Fresh asparagus should be firm with a tight and compact head forming a neat point at the end.

    A Mediterranean native, agretti is also known as land seaweed or saltwort. Its salty succulence may also be substituted with samphire or karkalla.

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