Monday, May 5, 2008

Mussel Memory

There are several people throughout my lifetime that have played a part in how I feel about food and cooking . One person that has made a huge impression on my taste buds is my sister Jessica. Considering the fact that she is my older sister, she went through the typical life experiences first. Because of this benefit, she has encouraged me and guided me in so many aspects of life. She helped me get my first "real" job, she has let me tag along on several of her travels, and she teaches me things everyday about being a mom that I know I will put to good use one day. In addition to these very important occasions, she also has played a big part in how I feel about food. Because she normally experienced things in life first, she had the luxury of tasting several different foods before I ever did. She shares my passion for food and she is willing to try anything. Almost every thing I eat and love today that isn't a "typical" food was introduced to me by my sister. I can remember trying several of my favorite foods for the first time with her: goat cheese, sushi and lamb to name a few. Now you may think that these things are not very strange food items, but they weren't things that we grew up eating. We ate incredibly delicious cuisine during our childhood, but we rarely strayed away from chicken, beef, and your New Orleans type seafood. I have thousands of things to be thankful to my sister for, but I am also very thankful for the fact that she has opened my eyes to so many delicious things. If it weren't for her, I may not have known how much I could love great food. Another atypical dish that I remember my sister introducing me to is mussels. Today, mussels are the only thing I ever get when I go to a French restaurant (I am sure it also has something to do with the fact that they are normally served with Pommes Frites).

I love mussels, but I have never attempted to cook them at home. I recently came across a recipe in one of my cookbooks that I was looking forward to undertaking. And right in step with the cookbook discovery, I noticed that Whole Foods sold fresh mussels at their seafood counter. This dish was so easy to prepare and a great deal of fun! I like to have new experiences in the kitchen, and this one was very enjoyable. If you like mussels and can find fresh ones at a seafood market or your local grocery, I strongly suggest you make this recipe in your own home. Once I started the cooking portion of this recipe, I was amazed at how quickly it all came together. I have cooked so many recipes in my life (so this next statement is a bold one), and this is one of the best! This dish was one that when I was eating it I wanted to open a restaurant that serves only that dish in order to share it with others. It was awesome! It tasted just like something that would be served at a very nice dining establishment and was so succulent. Next time I will serve this over whole-wheat pasta in order to have something to soak up more of the sauce.

Spicy Mussels with Herbs and Feta Cheese
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

3 pounds small mussels
Sea Salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 of lemon
1/4 cup of slivered fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 long dried red chile pepper, about 3 inches long ( I substituted 1/4 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
3 ounces cow's milk feta
Garlic toasts

1. Scrub mussels, pull off beards, and rinse in several changes of water. Place the mussels in a bowl of lightly salted cool water and let stand for at least 1 hour so they purge themselves of sand. (Farmed mussels do not need soaking; if soaked, they lose all their flavor.) Drain mussels

2. Heat a large nonreactive shallow pan until hot, add 1 tablespoon of the butter, and allow to sizzle. Add the cinnamon stick, mussels, and wine all at once, cover, and cook over high heat until the mussels open, about 2 minutes. If the shells are just beginning to open, leave them 1 minute longer, but do not overcook. Transfer the mussels to a bowl in order to catch their juices. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve. Discard the cinnamon stick. Shell the mussels and season them with the black pepper and the lemon juice.

3. Wipe out the pan, add another tablespoon of the butter, and set over medium heat. Add half the basil, half the parsley, and the chile pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the tomato paste, reserved mussel cooking liquid, and garlic, quickly bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup. Remove from heat, add the mussels, and set aside to cool.

4. Cut the feta into small slices. Dice remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Scatter the feta and butter over the mussels. Slowly cook until almost boiling. Swirl to allow the butter and cheese to thicken the sauce. Correct the seasoning of the sauce with salt, pepper, and lemon. Garnish with the remaining basil and parsley and serve at once with the garlic toasts.

When I was reading this recipe I thought that feta cheese sounded like an odd thing to pair with mussels, but the saltiness of the cheese worked wonderfully with the seafood and the creaminess of the cheese was the perfect compliment to the sauce.

FYI - I do also have two brothers that I love and adore very much, but because they aren't very adventurous eaters and don't bake cupcakes on rainy days I haven't given them much love on my blog. So I just wanted to say a quick hello to Trey and Kent!


Anonymous said...

This is your best entry yet ;) I am sure Allie will cry when she reads it. Robbie and I will definitely try this one.

Your sister,

Allie (aka- cry baby) said...

My comment was actually going to read "guess what I am doing right now..." I guess yall know me well!

mom said...

Now, this is a dish I'm sure I would love. I especially like the texture of mussels. Even though I may not have been the person responsible for introducing you to them. I do remember you trying your first raw oyster, however, when you were about three. You went at it about the same way you did that pepper bush at Aunt Kristy's.

GravissFamily said...

I have never had mussels and will probably pick one off of someone's plate before I go out and buy a whole lot. You are very brave in your culinary endeavors. You must teach me how to plan a whole week's worth of meals before the week actually starts.

Anonymous said...

So ... now I have had the mussels. WOW! They were even better than expected! And I have waited a long time to get a chance to have them. Thanks, Biz. And you sure know how to pull together a dinner party on short notice!