Monday, January 3, 2011
Moules Marinières & a Simple Salad
Why don’t we all cook mussels more? They’re so easy to make delicious and so incredibly fast to prepare. I think in this country we all get a little jumpy around shellfish. Maybe we tend to think of them as restaurant food. I suppose we’ve all heard horror stories of food poisoning from one not-so-fresh mollusk, or perhaps we once were sold a batch of spectacularly dirty shellfish that took hours of scrubbing to clean and were filled with grit. But these days none of the nightmare scenarios should be a factor as long as you source your shellfish from a reputable supplier. I’ve had consistently good experiences here in New York at Whole Foods and Citarella.
Once you’ve acquired good quality mussels, keep them well chilled in the fridge in a ventilated bag on ice, and just remember these two rules: 1. If you rap any open mussels with your knuckles, they should close tightly. If they don’t, they’re dead, and you should discard them. 2. Once the mussels are cooked, if any of them haven’t opened, then they should not be eaten either. Live mussels should be closed, cooked mussels should be open. It really is as simple as that, I promise.
And just think what awaits once you take the plunge. Big bowls heaped with blue-black shells, each holding a sweet, tender bite, all sitting in a fragrant, briny, soul-reviving broth of white wine, shallots, and parsley, ready for mopping up with plenty of French bread. It’s absolutely miraculous that it could be so quick and simple to produce. Make this once, and you’ll realize how easy (and affordable) it is to incorporate into your dinner roster.
Serve with a green salad – I’ve included a basic vinaigrette recipe here because meals rarely feel whole to me unless there’s something green involved, and simple salads are often so much easier to contemplate making than a cooked green vegetable. Put out some cold butter for the bread. When you start soaking up the wonderful white wine broth, and the cold butter on the bread melts a little bit…well just trust me on this. And don’t forget a glass of wine. Muscadet, crisp and mineral, is a good place to start, but don’t get hung up on the particulars.
For the mussels:
4 lbs fresh mussels
extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced in half moons (or one white onion in a pinch)
1 clove garlic, crushed, peeled and sliced
half a bottle of dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
handful fresh parsley leaves
Plenty of French bread for serving, split and toasted if you’re feeling motivated
Cold butter, for the bread
For a classic salad vinaigrette:
2 tbsp good vinegar (white balsamic is my favorite lately, also try sherry vinegar and regular balsamic)
freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, lightly crushed and peeled (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fresh salad greens, rinsed and dried
Start with the vinaigrette, because once the mussels are in the pot, they’re done very quickly and need to be eaten right away before the residual heat overcooks them. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, a spritz of lemon juice, the mustard, the garlic if using, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Then slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking steadily until the whole is well combined. Alternately you can shake everything up in a jar with a tightly-fitting lid. The extra keeps well in the fridge, and I personally think vinaigrette tastes better if you just keep adding to that same jar without rinsing in between. Either way, check the seasoning with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as desired. Put the greens into a serving bowl and set aside. You’ll add the dressing at the last moment so the leaves don’t wilt.
Clean and debeard the mussels (by pulling out any little fibers left from the side of the shell) under cold running water. Any shells that don’t close when rapped with your knuckles should be discarded, as should any that are cracked or broken. Set aside. Put in the fridge uncovered if not using within 15 minutes or so.
Heat a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil to coat the bottom and then the shallots. Sprinkle with kosher salt and sizzle, stirring occasionally, until just transparent. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add the white wine, and season with plenty of black pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to the boil.
Stir in the mussels, clamp on the lid, and cook over high heat for 2 to 5 minutes, stirring once to bring the bottom shells to the top and vice versa, until the shells have opened. Drizzle with the lemon juice and tear in the parsley. Check the seasoning with more salt if necessary. Pile the mussels into big bowls and divide the broth between them. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the salad greens (you will have leftover vinaigrette – just use enough to lightly dress them) and toss to combine. Serve immediately – there is no substitute for a freshly opened mussel – and be sure not to eat any of mussels that haven’t opened during cooking.
For another way to serve mussels, try this spicier, richer Spanish version with Chorizo, Chili, and Bay.
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