Saturday, December 20, 2014

Classic mussels

Two months! It's been quite a while since I've posted. Chalk it up to crazy work hours and 4 big cakes I've made for my cousin's over the past 2 months (cake pics coming after Christmas). But work is back to normal pace and no more cakes in the forseeable future, so it's time to get caught up on some delicious foods I've been cooking up!

I've been trying to eat a bit healthier these days in preparation for the gluttony that is the holidays, especially since this year I'm doing dinner on Christmas eve with my mom's extended family, Christmas day with my dad's extended family, and the day after Christmas with the boy's family! I'm super excited for the non-stop get togethers, but the buttons on my pants do not share my enthusiasm.  :)

So what's a great comfort food that hits the spot on cold winter nights but isn't going to pack on the major pounds?? Steamed mussels, with a delicious white wine sauce that you can dip a toasty, crusty bread into.

And the best part is that while most comfort food takes hours and hours to put together, it literally takes minutes to steam the mussels.

These work great as a first course or a main dish. I prefer eating them for a main dish though, because I always seem to want more than just an appetizer-sized portion and I get to soak up all that delicious broth with a big hunk of bread.

Steamed mussels with white wine and garlic
Recipe adapted from All Recipes and Ina Garten

Serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as a first course.

Remember that mussels are alive when you buy them, and you want to keep them that way until you're ready to cook. I like to buy mussels the day I'm going to serve them, but you can buy them a day in advance. When storing make sure that you do NOT keep them in a closed plastic bag or else you'll suffocate them. One way to store them is to put them in colander, cover with ice, and keep in the fridge. (Place the colander inside a larger bowl so the melting ice drains off.)

Another thing to keep in mind about mussels: they cook very quickly! Use your eyes (and a timer) to gauge their doneness (they pop open once they've cooked). I've read recipes that say to cook them for 10+ minutes, but I find that in my dutch oven they're done in about 4 to 5 minutes! I can't imagine how rubbery they'd be after 10 minutes, so take them off the heat once the shells have opened.

2 pounds mussels
1/4 cup flour (for cleaning the mussels)
2 TBSP butter + 1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced (~4 TBSP)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
zest from lemon
1 cup white wine (or 2/3 cup chicken broth + 1/3 cup dry vermouth, or beer if you like)
1 – 1.5 tsp kosher salt (omit if using chicken broth that is salted)
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 – 4 TBSP fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
crusty bed to serve

  1. To clean the mussels: put them in a large bowl with 2 quarts of water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes, or until the mussels disgorge any sand. Drain the mussels, then remove the "beard" from each with your fingers. If they're dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. At this point all the mussels should be tightly shut. If they aren't, squeeze the shells together or tap on the counter; if they're alive they'll slowly close (and stay closed) and if they're dead they'll stay open. Discard any mussels whose shells aren't tightly shut.

  2. To cook the mussels: Melt butter and olive oil over medium heat in a non-aluminum stock pot or enameled dutch oven. Cook shallots for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the red pepper and lemon zest and cook for another 45 seconds.

  3. Quickly pour in the wine, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Gently add the cleaned mussels and cover immediately. Give the pot a little shake and let the mussels steam for 1 minute (set your timer!)

  4. After 1 minute remove the lid and give the mussels a stir. Replace the cover and steam for 2 more minutes (again, set your timer!)

  5. Remove the cover once again; at this point many/most of your shells will be open. Stir in the parsley, replace the cover, and cook until the shells are all/almost all open, another 1 to 3 minutes. Make sure sure to check your mussels every minute or so at this point. (I find that with my dutch oven I only need about 1 more minute, so don't feel like you need to use the whole 3 minutes. If there are only 1 or 2 that aren't open, I'd turn off the heat and just toss those guys, because they may never open. I'd rather discard a few than have a whole pot of rubbery, overcooked mussels!)

  6. Plate the mussels immediately, making sure to include that delicious broth in the serving dishes. Serve with some warm, crusty french bread and a lemon wedge.


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