Thursday, April 26, 2007

Get Large

Another country heard from. I'm Ian. I went to UChicago around the dawning of the new millenium, played ultimate there with JL and JSA and BK (when he was around). Now I live in Cambridge, MA. Blah, blah.

Let's talk bivalves.

A few weeks back, I was wandering the aisle of my local fishmonger, seeking shellfish so as to sate a craving. What I really wanted was oysters. Oysters are, well, delicious. But, oysters are also quite expensive, especially really good, really fresh ones. BUT! Next to the oysters was a big colander full of mussels. Mussels aren't expensive, and I hadn't had them in a very long time, so I decided that I'd pick up a couple of pounds and see what I could do with them. (I've found that about $2/pound is a pretty normal price for mussels, at least in the Boston area in the Spring. Figure on about 1 pound per person, assuming that other foodstuffs are going to be on the table as well.)

So, I brought them home, and turned to my trusty copy of Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. And discovered, to my joy, that cooking mussels is very easy.

  • You start by cleaning the mussels. This basically means rinsing them, and pulling off any "hair" that's hanging off of them. (Mussel's have beards. As a facial-hair-challenged man, I'm very jealous. Punk-ass shellfish, trying to show me up.) Mussel's that have already opened need to get tossed, because it means that they've already died and won't be tasty (and, well, they may kill you). Likewise for ones that have broken shells.

  • Chop an onion and some garlic (a very rough cut is fine).

  • Take a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, over medium heat, and then saute the onion and garlic just until the onion softens.

  • Add 1/2 cup of white wine, and the mussels. Cover, and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 10 minutes.

When all is said and done, you end up with a large pile of mussels, now open and cooked. And (and this is the good part. Seriously.) you have a good pile of wonderful, delicious mussel-wine-onion broth.

Pile the mussels in a bowl, pour the broth over them. Serve with crusty bread (which, of course, gets dipped into the broth, and which may actually be the real reason to make mussels in the first place).

Bittman's got about a dozen variations -- other things to add to the broth to make various sauces, or different spices that can be added before cooking to give a hint of other flavors to the shellfish. The ones that I've tried have been pretty good, but I'm still pretty set on the basic recipie. It works for me, and it's tasty.

Over the past 6 or 8 weeks, since my first experiment with cooking mussels, I've found myself ordering them when I go out, as well as cooking them at home on occasion. The Green Street Grill is a great local place that has a very nice mussel appetizer. (It's also one of the hidden gems of Cambridge. It looks like a dive bar on the outside, but inside has some of the best food I've found in the Boston area.) Grafton Street Pub is a little too yuppie for this yuppie, but they also do a nice job with their mussels. Green Street goes a little heavier on the cream and butter in the sauce, and the bread that they serve with the mussels is just about perfect.

(I have a feeling that East Coast Grill probably does a good job with their PEI Mussels steamed in coconut milk, if only because everything that Chris Schlesinger oversees seems to turn out well. Also because East Coast Grill is my vote for bestest restaurant in the whole wide world. But I haven't had a chance to wander down to try them.)

The upshot of all this babble: mussels are tasty, cheap, and easy to cook. You should make them sometime.


Bryan said...

This is interesting. I generally can't eat bivalves. Any time I try, the texture throws me off. And that brown line around a piece of mussel meat. Looks weird. Things that look weird can't taste good, right?

But then I tried a mussel at Kumas, and while I was noticing the weird texture, I also noticed a good flavor. I don't generally like seafood, but want to like seafood, so if I could start liking mussels, that would be cool. I'll work on it. We have a good fishmonger here that supposedly gets good mussels. Of course, good seafood is relative here in Chicago.

ea said...

yay, mussels. Been a fan for a long time. Never got around to trying to make them at home. If I had a fishmonger down the street, maybe. Aw, hell, I'll make the trip out to get some. I've got a craving.

jsa said...

The curry mussels at Bentara, a Malaysian restaurant in New Haven, are truly excellent.