Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Homage to Mussels

Bouillabaisse: The recipe and the name of this classic Provincial dish sound complicated. I read through Julia Childs' instructions multiple times and even read the version from my On Cooking textbook. It's actually quite simple. You make the stock, then you pour it over seafood. That's it. Brilliant. But the stock has to be really freaking good and so does the seafood. This stock was so-so. To be honest, I expected more out of the saffron. More of an Indian-spice quality. Spiciness that kicks you in the face with flavor. This was more about the mussels, which is something I'm more than happy to let take center stage.

I just love mussels. They're so salty, tasting of exactly where they came from just like wine. There's this excitement about cooking them, how you have to keep them alive until they're cooked and how they pop open with the steam from a little bit of white wine revealing their salty flesh. They stay stubbornly clamped shut even under the threat of certain death. They bathe in fresh water for a few hours, spitting out the sand you don't want to clamp down on mid bite. To their lack of mind, it may be jolly sitting in some water, getting a good cleaning under a brush. Maybe it's the wine that does the wooing. The kettle, it's just like a spa: The mussels go into the steam room with a bit of vino and don't ever come out. Really, I couldn't think of a better way to die than in a bath of Riesling.
I made the bouillabaisse and roasted vegetables for some friends on Monday night. I can think of no better way to usher in cool weather and dark evenings than a cozy dinner with friends followed by a food-induced coma on the couch. No, there could be nothing better. Maybe except taking a swim in a vat of wine.

Bouillabaisse: from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 medium onion, diced
1 leek, sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teasponn fennel
2 pinches saffron
1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel
1 quart clam juice
1 1/2 quarts water

1/2 cup spaghetti pasta, broken into 2-inch pieces
2 pounds mussels, already cooked
1 pound shrimp or assorted fish, already cooked

Saute the onion and leeks in the olive oil until tender. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Saute another five minutes. Add the clam juice and water and the rest of the ingredients except the pasta and seafood. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Strain off the stock and save it. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Bring the stock to a boil and cook the pasta. Place the seafood in bowls and ladle the stock over the top of them. Season with parmesan cheese and the awesome rouille, recipe follows.

Rouille: from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 small can green chili peppers, diced
3 drops Tabasco sauce
1 potato, cooked in the stock of the previous recipe
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil

Place chile peppers, Tabasco, potato, garlic and thyme in food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the olive oil slowly until it becomes the consistency of a mayonnaise. Season with salt or pepper if needed. Spoon into soup to season broth. Also tastes great on bread.

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