“What do I do when my love is away?”*
My red-haired food co-pilot went away recently and I was left to cook, for one, which is something that I haven’t done in a long time. But it gave me a chance to make something I like but she doesn’t. There isn’t too much that she won’t eat, but mussels are one of them. I went and bought a two pound bag of cultivated mussels which was more than enough for two meals and began thinking of how I wanted to prepare them.
Mussels are an easy dinner and an inexpensive one too and they can be prepared in many ways: steamed in white wine or with beer and leeks, or Thai style with green curry and coconut milk. You get the idea. I was leaning toward white wine and garlic when I felt a stuck-in-a-rut moment coming on. If being stuck in a food prep rut has a soundtrack, think of Billy Gibbons’ hard crunching, gear grinding guitar sound. Yeah, it was a pretty good rut.
Then I remembered our local brewery, Round Guys Brewery. I went to pick up a half-growler and I asked for a suggestion. When they heard it was for steaming mussels the reply came with no hesitation, "Fat Bob’s Tripel XVII,” a Belgian-style beer made with 10% rye malt, Ardennes yeast and Saaz hops, into which I would swirl chipotle peppers for some smoke and some bite. All that would be needed is some crusty bread, a salad, and dinner is ready.
For mussel dinner number two, I returned to a variation of the classic moules a la mariniere, with some pasta tossed in at the end.
Cultivated mussels are relatively clean but before you use them give them a thorough rinse in a bowl of cold water, moving them around in the water. Drain the mussels in a colander. If the mussels have any beards attached (the fibrous strings that stick out of the shells) trim them off with a knife. If any of the mussels are open, tap them against a flat surface. If the mussels are still alive, they will close: if they don’t close, discard them.
Now get in the kitchen.... and support your local brewer, if you have one.
This is what I did when my love was away.
Mussels Steamed in Beer and Chipotle Broth
This could also be made with clams, which my wife would definitely like.
I used about 22 mussels for one serving, so one bag, which holds about 4 dozen mussels, will easily serve two people.
¼ cup diced onion or minced shallot
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup beer
1 or 2 chipotle peppers (to taste), chopped
1 teaspoon adobo sauce from the chipotle peppers
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
olive oil, for cooking
1. Place a medium-sized sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion (or shallot) to the pan. Reduce heat and sweat the onion for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beer, the chipotles and the adobo to the pan and stir. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the mussels, cover and steam until the mussels open, about 3 to 4 minutes. Swirl in the butter and serve.
Mussels in White Wine with Fettucine
The remaining two dozen mussels would have made dinner for two when paired with pasta. It will take longer for the pasta water to come to a boil and for the pasta to cook than it will take for the mussels to steam.
For two servings:
Two dozen mussels
6 ounces dry fettucine
2 strips bacon, optional
¼ cup minced shallot
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
hot pepper flakes, optional, to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
To finish the mussels: either 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, or ¼ cup light cream.
1 Tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1. Cook the bacon, if using, until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
2. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook the fettucine for one minute less than suggested.
3. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shallots and sweat for a minute. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, black pepper, and the mussels. Cover the pan and steam the mussels until they open, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the opened mussels to a bowl, cover with a piece of foil, and keep warm.
4. When the pasta is ready, drain it into a colander. Put the fettucine into the pan of mussel broth. Finish to your choice by adding the olive oil, butter or cream to the pan and stir to combine. Crumble in the bacon. Cook the pasta in the sauce for an additional minute. Return the mussels to the pan and add the parsley. Divide the pasta, mussels, and sauce between two bowls and serve.
richie havens, 1941-2031, thank you.
Round Guys Brewery Co: http://roundguysbrewery.com/
*”With a Little Help From My Friends,” Lennon and McCartney