This is a really different take on mussels, and a speciality on the streets of Istanbul. The mussels are opened out, stuffed with a spiced rice mixture and then steamed to perfection. Delicious. Opening a mussel does take a little practice, but it’s very similar to shucking an oyster. You are essentially slicing the mussel in half, so there will be meat on both sides of the shell – but don’t be alarmed if it looks a bit ‘butchered’!
Soak the long grain rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Place the olive oil in a medium-sized lidded saucepan and set over a low heat. Stir through the onion, cinnamon, allspice and chilli flakes and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent.
Drain the soaked rice and rinse under cold water before adding to the pan with the spiced onions. Add the pinenuts, currants, parsley and a seasoning of salt and pepper, stirring well to mix. Pour in just enough boiling water to cover the rice by 1cm and bring to the boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and boil for 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave undisturbed with the lid on for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, open the mussels on a chopping board with a small sharp knife. The following instructions are for those who are right-handed; you will need to reverse them if you’re left-handed. Take a mussel in your left hand, hold it hinge end pointing left and flat edge pointing up towards you. The more curved edge of the mussel is facing down on the board. With the sharp edge of the blade facing to the right, force the tip of the knife directly down about halfway along the side facing up to you and pull the blade to the right and round so it meets the chopping board, giving it a little twist as you go. This should allow you to open the mussel into two still-joined halves. You are trying to break the hinge just enough so that the tension goes and the two halves open, but not so much that they separate. Repeat with all the mussels.
Remove the lid from the rice and fork it through to separate the grains. Take an opened mussel and fill it with a heaped teaspoon of rice mixture, pushing the two halves back together as much as you can. Put the stuffed mussel into a large, deep frying pan, hinge side down, rice facing upwards – you need to try to line up all the mussels in a single layer in the pan.
Once all the mussels are stuffed and in the pan, pour in the boiling water and cover with a tight lid or piece of foil. Set the pan over a medium heat and steam the mussels for 10 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and cooked through. After about 7–8 minutes, take a peek to see if the water has steamed dry, adding a splash more if it has. These are also great cooked in the same way over a medium-hot barbecue – the temperature is about right if you can comfortably hold your hand 10cm above the heat for around 3 or 4 seconds. Serve hot, or allow to cool a little – they are just as good served warm.