During the first blush of our courtship, I invited my future husband over for dinner to dine on mussels in some kind of creamy, garlicky French sauce. It wasn't until much later that he informed me about how revolting he found this particular dish. I was really surprised, since we had begun our romance in an Albany, New York tavern league (he was a baseball pitcher on the men's team, while I was a catcher on the ladies' softball team) where post-game drinking involved not a small number of beers accompanied with steamed clams.
Clams and mussels are almost the same thing, right? Well, Dan has continued his hatred of my beloved black bivalves over the course of two decades and I've only had them several times since as supporting players in a few plates of restaurant Zuppa di Pesce. I found myself eyeing them longingly last week at the supermarket fish counter and decided to grab a bagful, since they were so darn cheap ($2 a pound!). I'd cook some up for myself and see if I could attract anyone else to join me in a heavenly plate of mussels.
It had been so long since I had prepared mussels I had to look up how to do so in some of my cookbooks. I found out that one should try to get farm-raised mussels, if possible, which are grown on strings suspended in water, rather than mussels dug up from muddy sea bottoms, as the latter will contain much more dirt, even after long soaking and prep times. Well, my mussels had big chunks of stone attached to their lovely, long beards, so they were definitely children of the sea bottom. The mussels all got their beards barbered and their shells buffed and further spa treatment with an overnight soaking in the fridge, with some corn meal "bath salts" sprinkled in to encourage my shellfish to expel their sandiness.
The pampering was over the next day, when they got scrubbed again, rinsed in fresh water, trimmed anew and then readied for the cooking pot. You must also discard any mussels that won't close tightly. I decided to try recreating my romantic mussel meal of yore, but couldn't find an exact recipe, so I came up with this Frenchified version:
Mussels in a Romantic Sauce (Moules de l'Amour)
2 lbs. of mussels (cleaned and debearded as above)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
6 Tbsp. butter
1 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup half-and-half
Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot over a medium flame. Melt butter and then add garlic and shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add white wine and bring to boil. Let boil, until reduced by about half and then add mussels. Cover and cook, 5-7 minutes, shaking the pot every couple of minutes, to make sure mussels are cooking evenly.
Uncover pot, remove any mussels that haven't opened and discard. Add salt and pepper to taste, parsley and half-and-half to pot and stir 2-3 minutes.
Serve hot with lots of crusty rolls (Crusty French Rolls from Bette Hagman's wonderful "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" cookbook) on the side to mop up the luscious sauce.
Serves 2-4 (2 mussel lovers as a dinner entree, 4 first course servings)
In a surprise move, Dan tried them and announced that they were delicious and more delicate-tasting than he had remembered. He actually ate his whole portion! My daughters were not in love with my romantic Love Mussels and after dissecting them rather rudely at the table, went off in search of a peanut butter dinner, leaving more for their appreciative parents (and clearing the way for some clandestine post-prandial smooching!) Ooooh la la!
I am sending this romantic recipe over to Joan at Foodalogue, where we are taking a virtual tour of France this week for her Culinary Tour Around the World Event. Joan will have a French roundup in the next several days, and then I believe we are traveling to Portugal to check out the sites. And, the food, of course! Come join us...