Welcome to the single time each calendar year I cook something that began its life in the ocean. I suspect right now that you’re in one of a few camps. You’re either thinking “You know, I never noticed it before but Deb, you really don’t have any fish recipes on the site!” Or you’re thinking, “What kind of person doesn’t eat fish?” or you’re thinking, “Lady, I just arrived here yesterday because I heard there were some cookies around and I couldn’t care less about your food hangups.” Welcome, all of you.
Yeah, so I have some fish hangups. But I love mussels. It’s probably because they’re usually steamed open in wine or beer, shallots or garlic, butter or, well, even more butter. It doesn’t hurt that they’re usually served with fries, and the juices sopped up with chunks of crusty baguette. Can you imagine a more glorious way to go out? They’re sweet and bite-sized and the shells make the most magnificent low clinking sounds against each other in a bowl, like very full wine glasses. The presence of those is encouraged, too.
I mentioned a few weeks ago my household’s adoration of the Canal House cookbooks (there are three a year, and a year’s worth was an awesome present last year). I don’t mean this to undermine the cooking, because that in and of itself is wonderful, but it’s true lifestyle porn: I don’t just want the cooking, I want it all, the aged-just-so dishes, the mismatched flatware, the abandoned barn tables with a little cascade of afternoon light flitting across and the afternoon cocktail that’s all part of day’s work. The recipes — crafted in the Lambertville, NJ kitchen of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, one a former founding editor and the other a former test kitchen director at Saveur — are seasonal and pared down yet elegant, things you immediately fantasize about serving at dinner parties you suddenly, urgently need to have.
And so when they suggested that I steam mussels open in wine, slather them with butter compounded with parsley, garlic, smoked paprika and salt and broil them until the butter is bubbly and serve at a party, I immediately wanted to do just that. Of course, it was actually a party of two last Friday night because we spend a lot more time these days chasing a tiny staggering drunk around than entertaining, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be fancy, right?
One year ago: Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen or the closest I’ve ever come to a gift guide. Nothing but practical, reasonably priced stuff, promise! Also, Creamed Mushrooms on Butter Chive Toast, Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce and Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes
Two years ago: Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties, Spelt Everything Crackers, Feta Salsa and Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Three years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies and Austrian Raspberry Shortbread
Four years ago: Fettucine with Porcini, Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette, Salted Chocolate Caramels and Zucchini, Ham and Ricotta Fritters
Adapted from Canal House, Vol. 5
I added a lot of directions here, such as how to clean mussels and a good place to pause if you’d like to make these a few hours before you will be entertaining. The only thing I would do differently next time is to chop my parsley more finely so that it would distribute evenly. Whether you swap beer for wine or regular butter for brown butter, I don’t think there’s a bad way to make these.
Serves 6 as appetizers
2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine (they suggest 1/2 cup but I need more to steam that volume)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 pinches smoked paprika (pimenton)
Clean your mussels. There are a zillion ways to do this, this is mine: I put them in a big bowl of very cold water for about 10 minutes. This encourages them to expel their sand. Scoop them out (not dump, if you dump the sandy water over them, it defeats the purpose) one by one and scrub them under running water. Most cultivated mussels have the bissus (beard) removed but if one lingers, yank it toward the hinge (if you do it away from the hinge, it can kill the mussel prematurely) or cut it with a knife. Discard any mussels with chipped shells or that are not completely shut; they are more than likely dead and it’s not worth finding out if it may or may not make you sick, right?
Boil your wine in a medium pot. Add the mussels, cover and steam them open over high heat until they open. You can start checking at 3 minutes, but it can take up to 6. I like to use the lid and potholders and shake them around a little from time to time, to make sure they’re getting equal access to the wine and heat.
Once open, let the mussels cool. Twist off and discard one of the shells from each mussels (discard any that didn’t open), making sure that the remaining shell contains the mussel. Reserve the mussel broth for another use. Mash butter, parsley, garlic, pimenton and salt to taste in a small bowl and slather each mussel with the compound butter. Arrange them in a broiler-safe tray and chill them in the fridge until the butter is hard. [This is a great do-ahead interval, if you’d like to prepare these for when you entertain.]
Preheat the broiler (or your oven to 500, if you don’t have a broiler). Broil the mussels until the butter is bubbling hot, about 2 minutes (or up to 4 in an oven). Serve immediately, with crusty bread or my favorite, baked pommes frites.