Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive-O

It's safe to say that mussels are not typical Nebraska fare (seems obvious enough), but aside from that I would guess that most people I know haven't even tried them. I told my parents I cooked using mussels for the first time and they both said "eww." But it's all a part of my New Year's resolution to cook dishes that aren't Italian. This one is French(ish). In fact, the first time I tried mussels was in Paris at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. They came simply dressed, in a bucket and probably cooked in wine and maybe garlic. That's it. (Dario's in Omaha has some fantastic mussels also served in a bucket but with tomatoes and thyme--simplicity is key here). Maybe because mussels are a tad tricky to prepare, they don't need all that extra work while you cook them. Just a theory. I was actually a little bit freaked out to cook with mussels, thinking that the little guys were still alive up until going into the pot with boiling and steaming wine. To prepare mussels you have to toss them in a bowl of cool water so that they'll spit out the sand and salt still inside the shell while they "breathe." So there I was staring into this bowl of bivalves while they cracked open their shells and little air bubbles popped up. I was enthralled up until the point at which I had to touch them. After they soak in the water for 30 minutes, you have to clean their shells. At first glance I thought, "eh, mine look pretty clean. I don't need to scrub them." Not true. There's a kind of slime on the outside of the shells that needs to be scrubbed off before you eat them. And some of my mussels were clenching little pieces of vegetation that I had to pull off or snip off with kitchen shears. I was, to put it mildly, totally freaked out. These things are alive. And even worse, some of them weren't alive and were hanging open and going bad by the second. I carefully spooned them shell by shell into a strainer under running water, meanwhile discarding the dead ones. I eventually got the hang of it, wasn't that freaked out and ended up very proud for doing it all by myself. The entire experience of cooking the mussels was full of "woah" moments. Woah, they breathe. Woah, some are dead. Woah, this isn't so bad. But the biggest woah moment happened when I cooked (brutally killed) them. The recipe said to bring 3/4 of a cup of white wine to a boil. Three-quarters of a cup was supposed to do it for two pounds of mussels. Really? I doubted the recipe. I had already cooked one thing from this cookbook that turned out so bad it practically inspired a gag reflex. But Fran and Joanne were right. I tossed my shells into the simmering wine, put the lid on the pot and opened it six or seven minutes later to discover, miracle of miracles, perfectly cooked mussels and enough leftover stock to add substance to my soup. And then I caught a dish towel on fire. Our stove has gas burners, which is supposed to be really great for cooking (hypothetically). It's just not the best idea to be doing three things at once on the stovetop near the open flame. Good thing I caught the fire before it grew too big because we do not have a fire extinguisher. But Megan's cute, Christmas tree dish towel is now ruined.
The soup turned out fantastic, simple and savory. I replaced saffron with turmeric because there was no way I was going to spend $12 for a "pinch" of the fragrant spice. Sorry. I don't love myself that much.
Cream of Mussel Soup: inspired from The French Market by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 1/3 cup flour 2 cups fish stock (yeah, yeah I used chicken) 1/3 cup cream 1 teaspoon turmeric 3/4 cup white wine 2 pounds mussels, cleaned and brushed (the recipe actually called for 4 pounds) salt and pepper to taste parsley to garnish Heat olive oil in a stock pot on medium heat. Saute onions for several minutes, add garlic and saute for another minute being careful not to burn garlic. Toss in the flour and stir to coat vegetables. Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Stir until the mixture is free of clumps of flour. Add in the cream and turmeric. Let simmer for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a different pot, bring the wine to a boil/simmer. Add the cleaned mussels and put a lid on the simmering pot. Let simmer for 6 or 7 minutes. Remove lid, mussels should be open. Toss out any mussels that are still closed. Let mussels set for a few minutes until they are cool enough to touch. Then remove the meat from the shell and add to the cream mixture. (You can actually leave the mussels in the shells and take them out while you eat.) Add the wine to the soup. Stir and let simmer for several minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsley.


Kenton said...

Lainey, where did you get the live mussels in Omaha? Shellfish have been on my "things to cook list" for awhile, but I haven't looked into where to purchase.

Lainey Seyler said...

i had to go to whole foods. they've got quite the fish department. but even better would probably be Absolute Fresh. they only sell seafood, and distribute to a lot of the restaurants around town. there's one on 17th and Leavenworth and one on 120th and Pacific.

amythepowerful said...

we just made some last week! i totally skipped the soaking and scrubbing and had no probs (is that bad/gross?). i used a beer/jalepeno/tomato sauce, cooked them in that for awhile and just scooped 'em outta their shells.
soo yummy.
and be grateful for your gas stove! our apt. had electric and it ruined so many dishes with its awful uneven heat. when we bought our house, i wanted to hug the gas stove. i clean it everyday i love it so much! haha.

Lainey Seyler said...

i probably should clean my gas stove more ... it's kinda gross. but my primary complaint about the stove is that it has two tempertures: really hot and barely on. no medium.

and for cleaning the mussels. meh. it's pry fine. too much work most days.

Megan said...

" then i caught a dish towel on fire" "good thing I caught the fire before it grew too big because we do not have a fire extinguisher" ROFL