Rich, decadent, simple, peasant food all in one and what a mouthful! In South Africa we have the mussel season from October to end April.
Soak the mussels for at least an hour in a bucket of fresh cold water to which you’ve added a cup of oats or maize meal so that they can spit out their dirt. Drain, rinse well and discard the ones that are open; they are dead. Now remove the mussel beards and scrape off any sandy and stony bits from the shells. Rinse well and drain.
Melt a good knob of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan and add the shallots. Cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and stir briefly then add the wine. Bring to a boil then add the mussels. Cover and cook until the mussels have just opened, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan a few times.
Drain but reserve the stock. Return the stock to the pan and cook rapidly for a few minutes until reduced a bit to your liking. Then start to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, stirring. When all the butter is in and melted, add the herbs and return the mussels to the pan. Cover and give the pan a good shake and transfer your buttery, briny, winy mussels to a large serving bowl. Discard the ones that did not open.
Serve immediately, passing around a basket of crusty bread, more butter, more wine and a few small baskets or bowls for the shells. And offer small, damp hand towels kept just for this purpose: to eat with your hands.
This is a most economical dish if you picked the mussels yourself. Just remember the season, to pick nice large ones, your daily limit and your license.