A Bucket of Mussels, A Glass of Wine, a Book of Verse, and Y’all*

June 4 – June 10, 2018

mussels close-up

Monday:                   Mussels with Sausage in Tomato Sauce

baked ricotta and peas

Tuesday:                   Peas with Baked Ricotta, Green Salad

gratin

Wednesday:            Strawberry Gazpacho, Zucchini and Beef Gratin

pasta

Thursday:                 Pasta with Sauce of leftover Gratin and Tomatoes

Friday:                       Niçoise Salad

Saturday:                  Luke and Mike’s Front Porch (Nice outdoor bar)

Steak Diane

Sunday:                     Steak Diane / Romaine with Caesar Dressing

*Apologies to Omar Khayyam – but he’d have liked the mussels

If there is anything more enjoyable than sharing a bucket of mussels in a savory broth, armed with a fork, some crusty bread, a crisp white wine or a cold beer – well, we probably can’t write about it in what is, after all, an extended-family sort of blog.  And shame on you for even thinking about it.

If you are baby boomers, like us, one of your first exotic culinary experiences may well have been an order of mussels at some faux or vrai French or Belgian bistro.  And if you are like us, that food was a revelation.

Since then, we’ve traveled a fair way down the road to the type of European peasant cuisine those mussels introduced us to.  This type of food features humble ingredients prepared with spices and herbs to develop big flavor, and meant for sharing with a talky, friendly crowd, not afraid to drip food onto their clothes.

Mussels are just fun – and with a good broth, they are delicious.  The only difficulty (slight) is scrubbing them.  And you can do that early in the day and then leave them in a colander over a bowl and top with a wet dish towel and maybe a few ice cubes (put the whole assembly in the refrigerator) until its time to cook them.

We have a number of good mussel recipes, ranging from the traditional wine, lemon, garlic and herbs to a spicy chorizo-tomato broth.  But we found a new favorite in Mimi Thorisson’s Country French Cooking.  We shared these with Billy and Emily and they agreed.

Note:  It is natural to be daunted by the logistics of serving mussels or oysters or clams for the first time.  But there is nothing to worry about.  Just keep these shellfish cold until you’re ready to cook them (I usually keep a bag of ice on top of them in the refrigerator) – if any have slightly open shells, tap them with another shell or a spoon and if they don’t close up, discard them.  After you’ve cooked them, discard any whose shells have not opened.  Further note:   With mussels and clams you’ll have shells they are just open a bit – these are fine, just pry them open with your fingers and enjoy.

mussels close but bowl

MUSSELS WITH SAUSAGE IN TOMATO SAUCE

(adapted from French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson)

 Timing:                      25 – 35 minutes (after cleaning mussels)

 Ingredients:                                     Serves 4

Note:     We amended quantities of the key ingredients.  3 lbs. of mussels are just fine for 4 diners, though add a fourth pound if mussels is all you are serving.  Mimi calls for 6 lbs. of mussels – trust me on this, you don’t have a pot big enough.  Because you won’t be cooking 6 lbs. of mussels, you won’t need 2 ¼ lbs. of sausage, so we’ve amended that quantity as well.

3 pounds mussels
1 ½ pound pork sausage (we used hot, Italian)
2 ½ Tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we used 2 cloves)
½ cup red wine
1 small can of chopped tomatoes (14 oz. or so)
Fine sea salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
3 shallots finely chopped
1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig sage, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 bay leaf tied together with twine)
2 cups of white wine
Leaves from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Prep:

Clean the mussels and remove any beards (little hairy or root-like things hanging from the closed lip of the shell).  Mimi, who uses mussels fresh from the mussel farmers, soaks her mussels in a large bowl of cold water to get them to disgorge any sand.  The mussels we get from Whole Foods have already been soaked.  But you’ll want to use a potato brush to scour any sand from the shells.  And you will need to debeard them.  Relax, put on some good music and get on with it.  When you’re finished cleaning them, put the mussels in a colander with a few ice cubes and a wet dish towel over top, place the colander in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Measure out and chop the other ingredients.

Cook:

The Sausage Tomato Sauce:

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium.  When hot, add the sausage and cook, breaking it up pretty well with a wooden spoon.  Cook until it starts to brown – 8 – 10 minutes, continuing to break it up.  Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Pour in the red wine and simmer for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and their juices, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat, but keep the pan warm – or reheat as mussels are cooking.

The Mussels:

In a large pot (you’re going to need a big Dutch Oven or a stock pot), melt the butter over medium plus.  Now add the shallots and fry until they are golden (about 4 minutes – back off on the temperature if need be, since you want a gentle fry here, not a searing).  Add the bouquet garni, the white wine, salt and pepper to taste (a good two or three pinches of salt – taste the mixture to make sure it’s not bland).  Increase heat and bring this to a boil.  Add the mussels and cover tightly with a lid, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes – until the shells open.  Generally, I find that some of the mussels take a bit longer, so I remove the open ones to the serving bowl with tongs and stir the others around a bit until they open.  Discard any that do not open.

Remove any remaining mussels with a slotted spoon and pile into the serving bowl.  Add half or more of the mussel cooking liquid to the bowl.  Now pour the sausage-tomato sauce on top and toss gently to mix.  Sprinkle with the finely chopped parsley and serve with good, crusty bread to soak up the broth.

Don’t forget to place discard bowls appropriately around the table.  Or, you could place a bucket in the middle of the room and see who is best at pitching the shells into it.

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