Friday, April 2, 2010
Flex Your Mussels
Sometimes life gets busy. Not so busy that I’ve resorted to Cheesy Blasters—ok, maybe I have spent a lunch or two in the home office with a Lean Pocket and some stale shiraz—but this is dinner we’re talking about. Everyone deserves a dinner good enough to right the day’s wrongs and usher us into our comfort zone (mine involves a big red couch, a second glass of wine and Mad Men on DVD).
Shellfish isn’t exactly in the forefront of our minds when it comes to the quick weeknight supper, but it really should be. In about the time it takes for pizza to be ordered and delivered, you can steam up a batch of these mussels in spicy tomato-cilantro broth. Serve them with a cold beer, a salad made from pre-bagged spring greens and a crusty baguette, perfect for sopping up the amazingly flavorful broth. It really is the perfect way to end the day, and much less regretful than, say, inhaling half a Domino’s pizza.
How to Prepare Mussels
There are certain culinary skills that seem mysterious and complicated, but are in fact shamefully easy. They are also the skills that you can talk about at a cocktail party (well, maybe just the kind of cocktail parties I like to go to) and come off looking like a badass in the kitchen. Preparing mussels is one of these many skills (a few others include properly using a chef’s knife, neatly carving a turkey, and making anything involving meringue). The first item of business is to scrub and debeard your mussels if necessary, which is not nearly as challenging or creepy as it sounds. The mussel’s “beard” consists of a fibrous material that the mussel uses to attach itself to rocks on the ocean bed. Harvested from the wild, the beards can be a little, shall we say, “wild and woolly”, and require more effort to remove. But most blue mussels we buy in the supermarket today are farm raised and cultured on ropes, so their beard (if any at all) is very small and easy to yank off. (As a side note, farm raised mussels are a sustainable source of seafood, and fairly inexpensive—quite fit to feed the hungry masses.)
You can buy them from the seafood department in your supermarket, found either loose on ice or in one-pound net bags. They should smell fresh and salty, like the ocean, and most of the shells should be closed tight. When you get them home, pick out any mussels that have shells slightly open and rap them smartly on the countertop. If the mussel closes back up, it’s alive and fine to eat. If it stays open, the mussel is already dead and should be tossed out. Give your mussels a quick rinse under cold running water (If I have extra time, I’ll give mine a soak in cool water—for up to an hour—just to wake them up a little and let them filter in some fresh water. But that is not necessary.) Now they are ready to be steamed, which takes only 4-5 minutes.
Mussels Steamed in Spicy Tomato-Cilantro Broth
1 ½ cups bottled clam juice
3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup lime juice
3 Tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½" cubes
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
¾ cup thinly sliced green onions
Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large pot, stirring occasionally. Add mussels and butter. Cover and cook until mussels open, about 4 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open). Stir in cilantro and green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and serve with crusty bread.
Posted by Alex Harrison at 7:10 AM