Vivek is back…and we are all smarter for it!
Mussels are probably the most underrated of all the shellfish. Lobsters are the king and are luxuriously delicious, but also extremely expensive. Shrimp are used far and wide. Clams get put into awesome chowders. And crab boils go on all during the summer (if you’re lucky!). But mussels rarely get a second look. And that is unfortunate for us – the consumers. You see, mussels are really easy to prepare (they take about 10 minutes)! Not to mention that they are really, really cheap. I got mine at Whole Foods for $2.49/lb. Two pounds is usually a great appetizer size for 4 people or a full entree for 2. They can be eaten out of the shell, tossed in pasta, breaded and fried. And the broth – oh the broth, is perfect for dunking in amazing crusty baguette or as the base for a more elaborate sauce.
I still remember the first time I ever ate mussels. Living in Tennessee, we don’t really see them much. But when I moved to Washington, DC after college, there was an abundance of seafood and I couldn’t get enough. This place – Granville Moore’s – had amazing steamed mussels and the crispiest fries you have ever eaten. On Mondays, you could get an entire pot for $10. With a couple of Belgian beers, it was the best way to wind down after an intense day at work.
Steamed Mussels with Bacon & Blue Cheese (serves 4 as an appetizer)
(Recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)
-2 lbs of mussels (Prince Edward Island or cultivated mussels), kept on ice
-1/4 lb of pancetta or bacon, thinly sliced
-1/2 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
-1/2 onion or 1 whole shallot, thinly sliced
-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-2 tablespoons chopped parsley
-1 cup dry white wine
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
sprinkling of fennel fronds or tarragon (if you don’t have either, just use more parsley)
Wash your mussels and remove any “beards” if the mussels have them. If the mussels are open, tap them to see if it’ll close. If it stays open, that means the mussel is dead – so throw it out. Wash them well and keep them in a bowl set over ice.
Bring a large pot over medium heat and add a little bit of olive oil. Add the pancetta/bacon when the pan is cold so all the fat can render out. When the pancetta is crispy, about 8 minutes, add the fennel, shallot, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Season with salt and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the butter, the white wine, and the mussels. Cover the pot and cook until the mussels open, about 8 minutes. When they are open, they are done. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the top and toss everything together. Put some mussels in a bowl and pour over some of the broth. Serve with some crusty toasted/grilled baguette.