I've been biding my time, waiting for the right moment to lure some unwitting mollusks into my home and then, Hansel and Gretel style, pop them into a warm oven (or simply blast them with steam heat). Well last night was the night. This came about when the delightful, Eco-friendly Farms pork tenderloin I had vaguely planned on preparing was still stubbornly frozen and lurking willfully in the refrigerator. I was faced with making alternate dinner plans. I lunged at the chance to finally relieve Whole Foods of its burden of a 2 lb bag of mussels from Maine, and gave them a foster home in my kitchen up the street.
Now before I get too far into this post about mussels, let me just mention something that plays a key role in most every post I write. When hunger rears its ugly head, I basically lose logic, social skills and the will NOT to verbally abuse perfect strangers. So if my dinner plans are altered, or delayed, things can get hairy. Sometimes this results in staggeringly tasty innovation. Sometimes, the result is much darker and involves the barbecue joint down the street, the one that is constantly releasing smoky meat fumes into my living room...it's like Russian roulette. Except the bullet is food. Luckily, this time innovation won.
So, anyway. Off to the grocery I went, on a mission for mussels. Hunger confused me, and I ended up in the meat section, eventually walking away with some smoked bacon and a rib-eye (I guess I'll eat that tomorrow?) Eventually I found my way to the seafood counter. In the interest of time, I wanted cultivated mussels that did not require some brutal sounding ritual called "debearding" and worse, "scrubbing". The mussels I found were wild harvested, which I suspected meant hard work. The man behind the counter assured me they were already cleaned, but I knew he was bluffing. True to my expectations, I got them home and was faced with beards and barnacles.
Faced with these obstacles, there was nothing to do but fortify myself first with some fantastic cheese that I'd had the foresight to snag at the grocery. A thick slice of Leanora (a goat's milk, ash-covered cheese from Spain), plus a really mild Amish blue, the name of which is currently escaping me (Salemville?), a pear and some baguette helped me get through the darkness and into the light. And a glass of Petite Syrah to wash it all down didn't hurt either.
Onward! With the help of my ravenous boyfriend, we scrubbed and debearded those little bastards. In the meantime, I prepared the steaming broth. Below you will find the improvised method for mussels. I took a bit from Martha Stewart, the Cookbook of the Culinary Institute of America and Bon Appetit. This is the result.
Steamed Mussels with Bacon, Tomatoes and White Wine
1 2lb bag of cultivated mussels
1/4 lb bacon, chopped (I used smokey, aged Black Forest bacon)
1 can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups dry white wine (I used a white table wine from France)
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley
First, scrub and debeard your mussels, if they require it. The beards are little strings hanging from the side of the mussels shell and are what connect them to the rocks on which they grow. Use your fingers to pull them off, and discard. Scrub mussels to remove any mud or barnacles that may cling to the shells. Tap any opened mussels- if they do not eventually close, they are dead and should be discarded.
In a large heavy-bottom pot, cook the bacon over moderate heat. When cooked through, remove bacon and pour off fat. Add 2 tbsp butter and melt until bubbling, without browning it. Add garlic, shallots, tomatoes, thyme, salt and white wine. Add bacon. Bring to a simmer and let cook about 5 minutes.
Turn heat to high and gently add mussels. Cover pot and gently shake to evenly distribute the mussels within the pot. Cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot up a few more times to make sure all the shells have a chance to open. When mussels are open, they are done.
Using a slotted spoon, remove mussels from pot and into whatever bowl you'd like to serve them in. Because there were only two of us and we are heathens, the bf and I just ate out of one big bowl.
If serving a few people, spoon mussels into individual bowls.
Now add the rest of the butter and herbs to the broth. Turn heat up and simmer for about 1-2 more minutes. Pour broth over the mussels.
Serve with more white wine, crusty French bread and a bowl to collect the discarded shells.
Enjoy, my pets!