Friday, September 16, 2011

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere

You didn't think you could grill bivalvia mollusca?  Nonsense, my friends.  You can grill clams and oysters too!!  There's more to outdoor shellfish cooking than shrimp on a skewer.  Although shrimp are in a different phylum and class, still kingdom animalia though.  Mmmmm...animalia, my favorite kingdom to eat.  Have you forgotten the taxonomic classification of organisms?  I'm sure coming up with this theory got Linnaeus laid all the time in Sweden, but it wasn't a good opener at the bar in my college days.  For my classmates, that is.  I spent most of my schooling years studying, and didn't really have time to frequent any bars or saloons. 

They call mussels the poor man's oyster for a reason- you can't get a pound of oysters for $5.  These little guys are not only cheap, they're super tasty- and there's just a few simple rules for handling them.  First, you need to ensure your mussels are alive when you purchase them- just ask for them so at the fishmonger.  Most places will pack them up for you in a plastic bag sitting on a bag of crushed ice inside another bag.  This will keep them at their preferred temperature while you continue shopping, standing in line, fighting traffic/carts/pedestrians in the parking lot.  If you get home and have one that won't close its shell with a gentle tap, throw it out.  Do not store in fresh cold water, they will die.  Do not asphyxiate by sealing off that plastic bag- keep it open so they can respirate.  That's about all you gotta do to keep em nice and happy- use them preferably the day you buy, although as long as you store them properly 95% of them should live stored this way.

One last thing.  Please use a good wine-something that you like to drink...after all, it's a very large component to the flavor in this dish.  Good matches here would be a sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, pinot gris or pinot grigio.  To quote someone famous, 'I love cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food'. Hiyooooooooooooo!!!!  (To quote someone else, not quite that famous yet, but certainly on the way) 

Never prepared mussels before? To clean them, but scrub the outside lightly under running cold water with a brush (that hasn't seen the soap).  If the beard is present, rip these little hairs out.  You don't want to eat that.  And again, if the shell is open and then does not close with a littler tapperoo on the shell, it's a dead guy.  A mussel quickly deteriorates once they go to shellfish heaven, and that's not tasty anymore.  You want a tasty dead guy?

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere
two servings

2 lbs mussels, prepped
3 TB butter
1/2 C shallot, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 ts dry thyme
1/8 ts chili flake
1/8 ts black pepper
2 C dry white wine
1/2 C fresh chopped parsley
3 TB lemon juice, halves reserved
half loaf of good, crusty bread

Fire up the grill for medium high direct heat.  In a large dutch oven or pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the shallots for a couple minutes, then add the sliced garlic.  Stir and cook for 30 seconds, then add the chili flake, thyme, and pepper.  Of course this is all measured out as part of your mis en place, so that you are not trying to do all this now and thus burning the garlic.  Pour in the wine and increase the heat to bring to a boil, then manage the flame so you have a decent boil going, not splashing all over the place, but more than a simmer- you want most of the alcohol in the wine to boil off.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, the liquid will reduce slightly. 

While you cook the liquid gold bath for the mussles, take the shellfish outside to the hot grill.  Place carefully onto the grates, spread out evenly and try to keep the side that will open pointed up, as to not loose too much juice.  Cook for about 5-8 minutes, turning a few times, until they are done- which is when the shells open by a half-inch to an inch, depending on their size.  Grill the reserved lemon halves if you like.

Add the grilled mussels to the sauce, the parsley and the lemon juice, stir to mix everything up nicely.  Serve with plenty of broth, an empty bowl for the shells, and there should be some of that white wine left as well.  An accompanying salad would be tres bon.

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