Sunday, January 12, 2014

DOING DISHES: Part V of V - The Mussels Series

For all those home chefs and cheapskates out there, we finally brought mussels home and, after teasing the cats with them for a few minutes, tried our hand at cooking them ourselves. Toot toot they were wonderful. We certainly learned a few things, despite alcohol consumption because Zena didn't have to drive, that we want to share with you.

1. Plan your dinner party the night before garbage pick up. After a few days the shells stink worse than the Y on a busy Saturday after the holidays.
2. Check out options for purchasing the freshest mussels possible. I spoke to the folks and Price Chopper on Western Avenue in Guilderland and got their delivery schedule. Despite 16" of snow, delaying our repast by one night, they were dated as harvested one week earlier. They smelled briney, not fishy. A two-pound bag was $3.99. They were from Rhode Island, not P.E.I., so that's a bit more local than our area restaurants can boast. (:
3. Keep your mussels cold until you cook them. I was driving home wishing I had crushed ice since my refrigerator was full, NOT the refrigerator of a single superhero, as Cookie cleverly pointed out. Then my personal idiot light went off. When I got home I shoveled snow into a bucket, put my mussels in their mesh bags on top and covered everything with a damp towel and kept them in my garage for the day. Since it was minus 0 degrees outside I figured the little buggers would keep well. Otherwise keep them in a bowl, covered with that damp towel, in the fridge until it's time to cook.
4. Set the table, make sure you have a discard bowl for the empty shells, and plan to serve a nice crusty bread and salad to round out the meal. I bought tiny forks at The Cook's Resource in Stuyvesant Plaza for the event because I'm a cooking nerd. I think these are actually "strawberry forks" - not as small as the little ones you usually get in a decent restaurant, but adorable just the same.
5. Scrub the mussels WELL with a hard brush. I had a few that were a bit sandy, and even though superheroes are not undone by such things, eating sand is not good eats. Don't be lazy. Hum a tune, scrub each one well, and look forward to dinner. NOTE: I found only had one mussel with a broken shell. Discard!!!!!!!
6. Drink. Eat appetizers. Remember to make dinner.

The September/October issue of Cook's Illustrated (No. 124) had a recipe for making mussels that suggested cooking in a 500 degree F oven instead of on the stove top that promised good results. I decided to try it, but I added 3 chopped shallots, which were not part of their Oven Steamed Mussels concoction, and a bit of fresh tomato to copy the bits in the dish we had a Provence. This was so that we (Foodie Friend, Lexus [formerly Subaru - she wanted an upgrade], and I) could compare our experience to the classic Moules Mariniere that we had been enjoying in area restaurants. Also I made the cooking liquid in a saucepan instead of the roasting pan because I have a ceramic top stove, and wanted better control than Cook's' method (the sauce starting in the roasting pan). GRIPE: Cook's won't let you see the recipe online without a membership, which I think totally sucks. I can't get them either, even though I subscribe to the print copy. Pisses me off. But I digress....

Here's the recipe (Cook's with amendments): Serves three generously

2 T minced garlic
1/4 C chopped shallots
pinch red pepper flakes
1 C dry white wine (I used Sauvignon blanc)
1/2 C chopped fresh tomato
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
4 pounds mussels
2 T salted butter
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan heat oil until shimmering. Add garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until vegetables are just tender, about 1 minute. Do not brown. Add chopped tomato, wine, thyme, and bay leaves, bring to a boil and cook one more minute. Remove from heat.

Place mussels into a large roasting pan. Pour sauce overall. Cover tightly with foil and and transfer to oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Push mussels to the side and whisk in butter. Add parsley, toss, and transfer mussels to a serving dish.


Bubbly with apps to start on January 3 was a lovely way to start the new year. Foodie Friend contributed a colorful salad tossed with a simple vinaigrette. Lexus brought us a cheeseball and a nice crusty loaf of bread.  For dessert: poached pears by FF topped with marscapone mixed with maple syrup liqueur. My guests headed home and I proceeded to then drink everything left in our glasses before loading the dishwasher and passing out. Then I spent time saving the world and working off the EtOH at the Y the next morning.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

FYI: All the mussels opened, tender and delicious. We were quiet for several minutes as we first Zena'ed/Zenned into our meal. You know what? Making mussels at home was EASY, inexpensive, and absolutely delicious. Even though we had to do the dishes afterwards. It was a wonderful meal. 

This is a very sexy mussel....

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