Mejillones tigres or spicy mussel beignets are made by mixing mussels into a thick bechamel sauce that is used for filling the very same mussel shells. The ensemble is breaded and deep-fried in olive oil like a beignet or croquette.
The name of tigres, meaning tigers, derives from the concept of these croquettes being fiercely spiced, which does not really mean a lot as in Spain, traditional fare is never truly hot.
The quality of the mussels is key. In Spain some of the best mussels come from the northeast corner of the country, the region of Galicia, where they are farmed in wooden rafts in the multiple flooded river valleys that make up its coast. This tapa is widely popular all around the country, but especially in the north.
Freshly harvested mussels are commonly found in markets in Spain, even packed already steamed and half-shelled like the ones we’ve used in this recipe. If you use them fresh you’ll need to steam them as it is instructed in our recipe.
- 2 pounds (1kg) fresh mussels
- 1 onion
- 1 green pepper
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 garlic cloves
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 cups of ready-made bechamel sauce or
- ½ cup (125g) AP flour
- 4 tbsp (50g) butter
- 4 tbsp (50g) olive oil
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 3 cups (750ml) milk
- 2 beaten eggs
- Plenty of breadcrumbs
- Plenty of good olive oil
- Finely dice the onion as well as the green pepper.
- Cover with olive oil the bottom of a skillet and fry on low heat until wilted. Drain the oil and set aside.
- Cover in olive oil the bottom of a large pan with lid. Heat on medium and fry the diced garlic. Add the wine, bring to a rolling boil and add the clean mussels.
- Cover with the lid and let the mussels steam and open; take the mussels out the moment they open their shells; if they stay too long in the steam after opening they will turn rubbery. Don't throw away the steaming juices as they can be used in a fish broth or also to enhance the mussel flavor of the bechamel sauce. Set aside.
- Pour the olive oil on a large skillet and add the butter. Heat on medium till the butter is melted.
- Then add the flour and stir constantly with a whisker or a wooden spoon, so that the flour browns slightly; this is necessary for the sauce not to taste of raw flour.
- Keep the milk warm in a pan in the meantime.
- When the flour is golden start adding the milk little by little while stirring and mashing the lumps like there's no tomorrow. The mixture must be creamy and homogeneous.
- Keep adding the milk and homogenizing until all the milk has been added. A portion of the milk can be substituted by some mussel broth.
- Add the grated nutmeg and boil on low heat for 8-10 minutes while stirring. Then add the mussels cut into several pieces and the drained onion and pepper along with a pinch of cayenne. Stir to combine.
- Season with salt and keep cooking and stirring for another 10 minutes, till the sauce is thick and creamy.
- Take a large tablespoon of the filling and place it on a shell. Press it a little bit with the back of the spoon to compact it and shape it. The filling should make a small mound on the shell.
- Fill all the shells in the same manner. Then beat the eggs in a bowl and prepare another bowl with the breadcrumbs. Coat each beignet in the egg first, then in the breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large platter.
- The beignets can rest in the fridge till the next day; the bechamel dries out a little bit, as well as the coating, which makes them easier to fry. They can also be frozen at this stage, well wrapped in plastic. They can be fried later straight from the freezer, without thawing.
- Fill a small pan with virgin olive oil, at least one inch deep. Heat to medium-high and fry the mussel beignets in batches till golden on both sides. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Serve immediately while warm.
Tips for perfect mejillones tigres or spicy mussel beignets:
- We already stressed the quality of the mussels, which should be freshest.
- At some places the mussels are not cut into pieces and added to the bechamel sauce like they are usually prepared in Galicia, but instead they stay in the shell while the bechamel is added on top, coating them. The rest of the process is the same.
- If you want some more advice about preparing the bechamel sauce, refer to our cured ham croquettes recipe.
- Use a fine Spanish extra virgin olive oil of the milder varieties in this recipe. And enjoy the result.
- The beignets are better eaten while still warm, otherwise the coating will tend to get soggy.
- You can make the tigres as fiery hot as you like. They’re very mild for hot-food-lovers, but feel free to increase the amount of cayenne pepper.
These mejillones tigres or mussel beignets are just another great way to enjoy seafood, a much beloved food in Spain, essential in so many tasty tapas. The recipe may seem a bit time-consuming, but you can make them in large quantities and freeze them for a rainy day… just imagine…