French Fridays with Dorie
It wasn’t too long ago that the sight of uncooked mussels would carry me back to the summers of myyouth in Newport Beach, California. The thought of eating these creatures would never have occurred to me back then. We would play on the beach and pry the mussels that grew on harbor piers to use as fishing bait. Given that mussels are filter feeders and the bay at that time wasn’t exactly known for its pristine waters I doubt many others would have considered them for fine dining either.
Even though my friends and I would not have wanted to eat them anyway my grandmother would always make a big show of reminding us that some people, somewhere, actually enjoyed eating these gooey snot-like creatures. “Oooh, gross!” we would always exclaim. We were content to smash them with a hammer, dig out their organs with the dull kitchen knife she allowed us use for bait and slither them onto fishing hooks. Mussel ooze would stain the sidewalk and mark the spot where we were fishing that particular afternoon.
Grandma’s tales of humans feasting on mussels seemed so outrageous that I’m not sure we ever believed actually her. To my young ears these tales sounded like the tales my classmate Jessica Ditweiler would tell of the time came back from a Japanese vacation and shared how she ate (gasp!) raw fish. I didn’t believe Jessica either. I mean, raw fish?
It seems unimaginable to me that the young boy of yesterday could transported by the site of a bucket of mussels not to the beaches of Newport, but rather to the bistros of Paris or New York.
But they do.
My imagination usually includes sharing a bowl of mussels with dear friends since sharing a bowl of moules and a bottle or two of Vueve Cliquot is probably the best way reacquaint with a dear friends. At no time in the evolution of my childhood imagination into an adult reality did I ever dream that I would make delicious mussels all by myself and in my own home.
Until this week, I hadn’t.
Mussels have been at the top of my “Foods I’ve Always Wanted to Make But Haven’t Yet” list for years even though everything I had read about moules promised they were easier to make than scrambled eggs. Still, I had not gotten around to making them.
Maybe it was the bait thing? It seemed that where mussels were concerned I was defintily suffering from “chef’s block”.
If it wasn’t the latent memories of fishing ooze maybe it was my unfamiliarity with cooking a food that could die in my fridge that was the cause of my chef’s block? Mussels do need to be kept alive, over ice, wet, and able to breath real oxygen while they wait to be cooked. That seems like a lot of responsibility to take on, doesn’t it? What if I accidentally serve up a rigor mortised bivalve in a deceptively lovely sauce and accidentally kill a loved one?
Stop laughing! Haven’t we all heard stories of people who have known someone (who knows someone) who got fatal (or at least really really bad) food poisoning “from some bad mussels”?
Of course now I can’t even recall which friend of a friend I heard this about first now but somehow I began likening the unfounded dangers of dining at home on mussels to the real life thrill seeking equivalent of munching on some potentially deadly Fugu sashimi. One wrong bite and “ bam “!
Somehow it has just seemed a lot less stressful to me to leave this dish to the professionals!
Mussels and Chorizo (with Bread!)
I needn’t have worried. Making mussels at home is a lot easier than getting a reservation for Sunday lunch at New York’s Balthazar and its a heck of a lot cheaper than flying to Paris to enjoy a bowl. This ve11111rsion, with its use of chorizo as a primary flavor will take you to Barcelona instead of Paris. Its nice for your imagination to have a choice of destination when it travels so I decided to conquer my fears.
My anxiety was unfounded.
One needn’t worry about accidental poisoning since that danger turns out to be a bit overstated. A closed shell indicates that the mussel died before cooking so eat only the ones that open when you cook them. Discard the unopened ones and move on but even should you eat a ‘borderline’ mussel Spencer Garret of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service promises that the risk is minimal since cooking heat will likely kill any bacteria. “Even if its dead when you bought it, it probably won’t make you sick”, he says.
These mussels were put in a big bowl in the center of the table with a baguette to sop up the flavored sauce and before we knew we were sitting in a seaside restaurant overlooking the ocean catching up with good friends, telling stories and drinking too much wine.
I couldn’t have imagined it better.
(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “ Around My French Table “)
This is what you will need:
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 thyme sprigs
- salt and fresh pepper
- 2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 pound mexican chorizo, crumbled, cooked, and drained on paper towels until ready to use.
- 4 punds mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary. Discard any that are open.
- 1/4 cup white wine. Save the rest of the bottle to drink with friends while you enjoy dinner.
This is how you make it:
- Start with a large dutch oven or casserole that has a cover as you will need everything to fit inside it. Heat up the oil in the pan.
- When hot, add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, thyme and 1 teaspoon salt, a bit of pepper and then cook while stirring until the vegetables are soft. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Mix in the tomatoes and chorizo crumbles and cook for 5 more minutes until everything is warmed through and hot.
- Acting swiftly, dump the mussels into the pot with wine and turn up the heat to high, give a good stir and cover the pot and continue to cook for 3 minutes. No need to stir the pot but you can shake it while covered once or twice half way through.
- After the 3 minutes, turn off the heat and let pot sit for 1 minute, resting and waiting for the mussels to open up.
- Serve immediately. Spoon into bowls and serve with bread, wine, and good friends. If you plan on being transported away, have your passport ready.
It is just that easy!
Note: Dorie Greenspan says this is equally good over pasta but as you can see I chose bread. As far as I’m concerned bread is the only appropriate choice. What you want here is efficiency with mopping up the tasty broth. You will want all of it. I wasn’t able to use the Spanish chorizo Dorie suggests. Her glossary suggests that it is not interchangeable with the Mexican variety I had on hand but, it is. I just cooked it up myself before starting the recipe and it was just excellent as the main flavoring for the dish. I suspect that the Doristas who make up French Fridays with Dorie will be subbing in whatever sausagey delights they have locally as well.
I want to try this one using Pernod or Sambuca instead of white wine…