"Mussels work beautifully on the grill, each one an individual vessel that pops open over the intense heat," says Hastie. "The sweet acidity of ripe tomatoes counterbalances the salty mussel juices, which are mopped up by the toasted sourdough."
- For barbecuing: seasoned hardwood, preferably orange
- 2 kg mussels, cleaned (see note)
- 200 gm sourdough bread, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 250 gm ripe baby tomatoes, such as cocktail truss
- 100 ml extra-virgin olive oil (a light, fruity style such as arbequina or koroneiki), warmed
- ½ cup (loosely packed) torn flat-leaf parsley
- 6 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 baby fennel, trimmed, coarsely chopped, fronds reserved
- 1Burn wood slowly down to smouldering embers and medium-high heat (see below).
- 2For tomato water, blitz tomatoes, fennel and a pinch of sea salt in a blender or with a hand-held blender, then transfer to a muslin-lined sieve set over a large bowl and refrigerate until 400ml tomato water has filtered through (2-4 hours).
- 3Spread embers evenly across the base of the barbecue and set the grill 3cm above the embers. Place mussels flat, in batches, directly on the grill, immediately cover with a deep, heatproof pan and cook until just opened (2-3 minutes). Carefully transfer mussels with tongs to a plate, conserving as much of the liquor as possible. Just before serving, remove top shells, leaving mussel meat on the half-shell.
- 4Toast bread over the embers until golden (1-2 minutes each side), then rub with garlic, tear into pieces and set aside.
- 5Grill baby tomatoes until they just start to soften (1-2 minutes).
- 6Add tomato water and grilled tomatoes to mussels, then pour warmed oil over, toss gently then divide mussels and tomatoes among warm serving plates. Strain the liquid into a warm pan and whisk to emulsify, then season to taste and pour over mussels. Scatter with bread, garnish with fennel fronds and parsley, and serve hot.
Note To clean mussels, discard any that are chipped or damaged. Tap to check the mussels are tightly closed, discarding any that remain open. Remove the beards and scrub the shells clean. Soak the mussels in salted water for 30 minutes to purge any remaining impurities, then rinse in fresh water.How to prepare wood
- It almost goes without saying, but check the fire restrictions for the day in your area.
- Because they offer better control over airflow, wood-fired ovens are the perfect thing for burning the wood to coals; take care when you're transferring them to your grill or barbecue.
- If you're using a pit, enclose the fire with fire-rated bricks to help retain the heat and to slow the rate of burning.
- If you're using a barbecue, light the fire, close the lid and adjust the vents so the wood doesn't burn too fast. If you happen to have two barbecues, use one for burning the wood and one for grilling.
- Light the fire early - at least 1½ hours before starting cooking. Avoid using fire lighters or treated wood where there can be a residual chemical component. Wood embers burn hotter than the fire itself, so allow the wood to break down to glowing coals with a light-grey coating of ash. Too high a temperature and the subtle elements of the wood become tasteless. Optimal conditions are a slow, smouldering fire.
- Ideally you should use seasoned hardwood (at least 12 months old). Green or unseasoned wood with a high moisture content is harder to light and burns erratically, emitting smoke instead of heat, so it's worth sourcing premium hardwoods from recognised suppliers, such as Blackheath Firewood Company. If you have fruit trees, keep your prunings to use the next year.
- Woods vary in the amount of heat and flavour they produce.
Drink Suggestion: Tomato can be a tricky match, but Tahbilk's glorious Australian all-rounder has nursed me through many barbecues – 2013 Tahbilk Marsanne, Vic. Drink suggestion by Lok Thornton