Saffron Chicken & Mussels

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Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

Chicken goes surprisingly well with lobster, freshwater crayfish or mussels. In the Mediterranean region it is most famously combined with them in a Spanish paella, while a sauce Nantua of crayfish is a classic French accompaniment to chicken. That American initiative of pairing lobster tail with steak, called so attractively ‘surf ’n turf’ - which sounds like a skin disease - is an unfortunate emulation of this honourable tradition that alas does not work.

Here the mussels are shelled and the dish is sauced conservatively as a main course to serve with rice. Alternatively, you can serve it with the chicken breasts whole and the mussels in the shell, with a broth rather than a sauce. If following this method, add 575 ml/1 pt of chicken stock when cooking the mussels. Leave out the yogurt and add two diced peeled plum tomatoes and four tablespoons of olive oil to the final amalgamation.


  • 1 kg/ lb mussels
  • 14 saffron threads
  • 1 leek
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • handful of flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 chicken breast fillets
  • 300 ml/½ pt dry white wine
  • 150 ml/¼ pt chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 tbsp plain yogurt, stabilized
  • about 4 tbsp olive oil salt and pepper



Beard and scrub the mussels, discarding any that stay open when tapped. Put the saffron to soak in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Trim and wash the leek and carrot. Cut them into julienne strips. Peel, smash and finely chop the garlic. Wash and destalk the parsley.

You will see that the chicken breasts have a small loose piece of flesh on the underside which you can pull away. Do so, season the skin with salt and pepper and reserve.


Put the wine, chicken stock, parsley stalks, bay leaf and garlic into a large saucepan with a lid and bring to the boil.

Add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking from time to time, for 2—3 minutes, until the mussels have opened. Strain through a sieve into another pan. Shell and reserve the mussels.

Bring the liquid to the boil and continue to boil hard until reduced by half. Add the stabilized yogurt and stir it in. Lower the heat and leave to simmer gently.

While it simmers, brush a non-stick frying pan with a little olive oil and put over a low heat. When the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts, skin side down, and fry, turning after 10 minutes. Turn once more and cook until the flesh just springs back when pressed, which will take a total of 15—20 minutes.

Transfer to a warmed dish and keep warm. Turn up the heat and rapidly fry the 4 little pieces of breast you detached earlier, turning frequently. This only takes 2-3 minutes. Add to the other breasts.

Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and stir-fry the carrot strips until they start to wilt, then add the leeks and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add to the yogurt sauce the mussels, saffron and soaking liquid and parsley leaves, reserving a few for garnish. Warm through.


Cut the breasts across on the bias into slices and arrange in warm soup plates. Spoon over the mussel sauce, scatter over a few parsley leaves and serve with plain boiled long-grain rice.

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