Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Fish Bait to Fine Dining - Mussels in Wine Sauce

Back in the early sixties, I spent several summers at the then-ubiquitous Jewish sleepaway camps of the New York Catskills.  We swam, we played a lot of volleyball, practiced shooting hoops, rode horses, and went fishing.  For bait, we gathered mussels from around the shallow shores of Lake Anawana, smashed the black shells, and retrieved the yucky interiors.  I caught the most beautiful fish with those sad bivalves.  Of course we never got to eat the fish we caught, as they were always thrown back for yet another day.

The mussels, though ... it seems that somewhere along the way from fish sticks to chilean sea bass, I also discovered something that European cooks have known for a long time.  Mussels make good eats, can be farmed and are sustainable, and are a lot more reasonable in price than scallops, oysters, or even clams.

This is my favorite way to eat them.  Hot from the pan, with the most delectable juices to sop up with bread.  I also love them cold from the fridge the next day.  If you have ever eaten mussels on the half shell at a Chinese buffet, then you know they are delicious when cold.  These are even better, because of the garlicky, herby sauce they've been resting in overnight.  Either way, you will be glad you tried them. 

This is my other favorite way to eat them, as part of a paella, and I will be publishing that recipe as part of Throwback Thursday #TBT later this week.  Besides tasting wonderful, they really add to the visual appeal. Thursday, I promise.

Back to the mussels in wine sauce - first, a little trick:  rinse the fresh mussels in a colander.  If any are open, and won't close when tapped with a spoon, throw it away, it's dead, Jim.  Place the mussels in a deep pot with a lid, add water to cover.  Stir in a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt, and fill the pot with ice cubes.  Cover, place in the fridge, and leave overnight or for as many hours as you can before cooking.  When ready to cook, dump into a colander and rinse with some cold water.  Shake off the excess water.  Debeard if necessary, then cook as usual.  This little soak seems to keep the mussels plump and tender when cooked.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I like the curly kind.  That's the kind of hairpin I am.)
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
salt, pepper, sugar

2 1/2  pounds fresh mussels, prepared as above
1 cup dry white wine

In a deep saucepan, heat the butter and oil together, then add the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.  Heat gently for 10 minutes.  Add the mussels and the wine.  Cover the saucepan and turn up the heat until it boils.  Simmer for 8 minutes, until the mussels open.  If any of the mussels have not opened up, throw them out.

Sometimes, I take half of a red bell pepper, cut it into strips, and add it to the onions and garlic.  I also like to chop up some more fresh parsley and scatter it over the top before serving.

Hot or cold, these are delicious.  Enjoy.

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