Guys dig girls with Mussels
Or at least, that’s what Max told me.
Cooking mussels is another one of those nearly foolproof methods of pleasing snobs with simple, and fairly cheap ingredients. In fact, Max spent more on the perfect Belgian beer pairings than I did on the whole dinner!
It was kind of a whim to make them, actually, but Max has been craving them for some time. And The Lobster Place is closer than any other grocery store, so the other night I braved the cold and picked up 2 lbs of fresh mussels. The total came to little more than $7. I don’t know why mussels in restaurants are always so expensive! And the last time I had them in a fancy place, I got food poisoning and was up all night vomiting.
That said, I think if you prepare them yourself, you’re much less likely to get sick because you can eliminate a lot of risk by checking to see if each mussel is alive before you cook it. It’s really simple: check to see if any of the (FRESH and UNCOOKED, obviously) mussels you bought are already open. If you find one that’s open, pinch it shut quickly with your fingers. Now wait: does it pop back open and stay open? If so, then it’s dead. If it closes itself (even slowly), it’s still alive and safe to eat. Also toss ANY mussel that’s got a broken shell. Contrary to popular belief, it’s entirely safe to eat cooked mussels that don’t open: it might be a pain in the ass to pry them apart, but they’re fine for consumption. The only reason the mussels open or don’t open is because the heat of cooking them denatures the proteins in their abductor muscles, and once that has happened thoroughly it releases the shell a bit. If they don’t open, and they’re cooked, it’s still safe to pry them apart anyway.
As the classic preparation for mussels is moules frites, and I have been in a somewhat classic mood lately, I decided to pair these mussels with oven fries. But to give the dish a slight twist, I added a bit of curry powder too. Also on the side: spinach. And a great Belgian beer! (okay, Max decided that part)
Mussels in a Curry & White Wine Sauce (for 2)
2 lbs fresh mussels
1/3 cup flour (for cleaning them)
2-3 large shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons curry
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt about 1/2 tablespoon
Step 1) Soak the mussels for 1/2 hour to an hour in about a half gallon of water with the 1/3 cup flour. This will make the mussels disgorge any sand or gross bits they are hanging onto (see redundant photo, right). As you put them into this nice little bath, check them for beards (that is, the greenish-brownish stringy thing coming out of their sides). These are what the mussel uses to attach itself to rocks, and you want to just yank it out quickly towards the hinge of the shell or cut it off with a paring knife. Rinse them off after you soak them.
Step 2) chop everything up. If you are making my extremely simple oven fries recipe below, preheat the oven to 450 at this time. After the potatoes go in, wait about 10 minutes before starting on the next part.
Step 3) Heat up the olive oil and butter in a big stock pot over medium. Add the shallots and stir until they’ve become translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, and saute another minute or so.
Step 5) After that liquid has reduced, add the (rinsed off) mussels. Cover it up! Wait 3 minutes, stir it, and cover it up again! Wait another 3 minutes and you are finished! Wow! Did you smell how great that was when you uncovered it? You want to serve these right away, so if you are making sauteed spinach, you should start sauteing as soon as the mussels go in. See the recipe below.
On the left, mussels before their first stir. They’re already mostly cooked! Don’t want to overcook these guys, 6-8 minutes should be plenty for 2lbs. If you over cook them they get chewy and gross.
Of course, presentation counts too so put them in a nice bowl or serving dish.
Okay, that was definitely awesome. But let’s get back to our easy and spectacular side dishes of oven fries and sauteed spinach!
Oven Fries for 2
2 tbsp olive oil
Step 1)Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Step 3)Toss them in olive oil and salt.
Step 4) Arrange them on a foil-covered cookie sheet so that they are “standing” with the most amount of surface area exposed to air. Put them in the oven for about 20 minutes, checking on them at 15 minutes. When they are golden, they are done.
Sauteed Spinach for 2
about 3 oz baby spinach, prewashed
2 cloves of garlic
dash of salt
juice from 1/4 lemon (meyer lemon if possibe)
1 1/2 tbsp good olive oil
Step 1) Heat your olive oil over medium-low flame in a pan.
Step 2) Add garlic. Stir for about 30 seconds.
Step 3) Add spinach, stirring constantly.
Step 4) Add salt, lemon juice. When the spinach has reduced like 85% (that’s a guesstimate) it’s done. You want it to be almost entirely wilted but not entirely wilted, I’d say it takes literally 2-3 minutes.
What a great dinner! Food critic Ruth Reichl once said “if it’s 4 o’clock and you’re in your office and you haven’t figured out what you’re having for dinner tonight, the battle’s half lost.” But I didn’t plan this meal until 5pm… so there’s still some home for us procrastinating cooks!