Friday, September 3, 2010

Mussels - Easy and Impressive

Recently an online friend wrote a post saying he wanted to learn more about cooking for himself, but was intimidated. I thought that some of my recipes should be simple ones for people that are intimidated by cooking. This is difficult for me, because I want everything I make to be the best it possibly can be, with no shortcuts or compromises. I am also not about to post and endorse a recipe that I do not prepare for myself. I believe the recipe that follows satisfy both the need for simplicity and excellence.

For anyone who is uncomfortable in the kitchen yet still wants to prepare a fine meal, I strongly recommend cooking with mussels. They are easy and quick to prepare, do not need a lot of additional ingredients to taste great, and are inexpensive to boot. They will also impress the hell out of anyone you are cooking for. There are so many ways mussels can be prepared but what follows is the simplest method and one of my favourites. The recipe was adapted from the Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain, but changed substantially. This book contains several different recipes for cooking mussels.

Moules Marinieres
4 lbs cultivated mussels
3 tblsp butter
2 red peppers, cut in strips
3 french shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin (optional)
½ cup white wine

That is really all you need. First, the mussels.

While they do need cleaning, it is not difficult. Most mussels are not harvested from the wild, but are cultivated on farms. This means they arrive at the store very clean. Simply wash them with fresh water and check for any with broken shells or open shells. Throw away any broken shelled mussels and firmly tap any open mussels. If the mussels do not close right away, throw them out.

Once that is done, cut the shallots, peppers and garlic if using. The recipe is prepared so fast, everything needs to be ready to go before you start cooking.

Heat butter on medium-high heat in a stockpot large enough to contain all the mussels. When the butter foams up, add all the vegetables and cook until the shallots are softened.

Then add the wine and the mussels. Cover the pot and raise the heat to high. Cook for five minutes. Many chefs advise you to shake the pot during the cooking. I do this, but I’m not sure if you really have to. After five minutes, uncover the pot. If all the mussels are open, they are done.

You can serve this as fancy or as simple as you wish. I personally like to eat them straight out of the cooking pot. If you want to be somewhat more civilised, pour everything into a big serving bowl and dig in. You can also serve in individual bowls. Just be sure everyone gets mussels, vegetables and liquid. The only other thing you need is a good loaf of crusty bread.

Variations: Too many to mention. Curry powder is a nice addition, you could add cream. Other possibilities include adding more or different vegetables or changing the liquid. Just don’t use anything with too much salt, because the mussel broth provides its own salt. The basic rule is to start with cooking the vegetables, then add liquid and any spices, then the mussels. Chopped parsley is a frequent addition - that would be added at the very end, after cooking.

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