I have been running this dish as a special at our restaurant for the last week or two and it is just walking out the door - everyone who orders it seems to love it. I sorta love it too - mussels are lovely, but they really don't provide a substantial meal - as much as the flesh is sweetly delicious, they really are just mostly shell. This is where the couscous comes in. When mussels cook and open, they release heaps of delicious ocean-flavoured juices. These, along with the other flavours like the spiced tomato and coriander are soaked up by the couscous, which then provides a substantial accompaniment to these flavoursome sea-treats.
The spiced tomato I refer to here is tomato kasundi, a rich and sweet spicy tomato relish that has its origins in India. It is fabulous in this recipe, but it does take some time to make, so feel free to substitute other flavours here - such as chilli jam, harissa or your own tomato-based relish - you could even try using plain tomato puree. It really doesn't matter, as the key here is the intermingling of the couscous and mussely juices.
The mussels I use in this dish are actually blue mussels Mytilus edulis planulatus, but they are pretty much black in colour, and everyone around here calls them black mussels anyway. This really is of little consequence, as you could use any mussel variety found in your parts - or even substitute other quick-cooking bivalve shellfish, such as cockles, pippies or clams.
The other grabber with this dish is that you add the couscous raw with the mussels - no pre-cooking required. This means that all up, this wonderfully substantial shellfish dish can be ready in just a few minutes. Here's the how to.
First you need to clean the mussels. Place them in a large sink of clean water and give them a good scrub. Mussels have a tough, stringy attachment to the flesh that protrudes out of the shell. This is called "the beard" and is what mussels use to attach themselves to slats, poles or piers. It is tough, inedible and must be removed. Grab the 1/2 cm or so stringy protrusion from the shell and firmly twist side-to-side, running the length of the mussel - it will eventually detach and leave you with a clean mussel. Continue until all the bivalves are cleaned.
Chose a large, heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add all the ingredients except the coriander and pepper. It is important to start a mussel dish cold - if you add mussels to a pre-heated pot many become reluctant to open. Place the pot on a high flame, covered and allow it to come to the simmer. Shake the pot vigorously as this helps the shellfish to open. 20 seconds after the first wisp of steam has emerged from the pot take off the lid and remove any opened mussels to waiting bowls. Return the pot to the heat, once again covered and continue to cook until the remainder open - checking every 30 seconds or so. This selective removal method is important because overcooked mussels are just no fun - chewy and inedible.
Once all the mussels are cooked and open - and divided between serving bowls, pour over the tomatoey juices along with the now cooked couscous. Scatter the top with coriander leaves and fresh-cracked pepper. Make 2 main course serves or 4 entree serves.
This dish would be pretty good with a steely Riesling such as Petaluma from South Australia - but I actually really dig it with a pale, yet meaty ale - such as Coopers Pale Ale or Chimay Blue Label.