Sunday, May 16, 2010

Belgian Feast

I made mussels a la mariniere with chorizo last night for the first time as part of a little Belgian feast (Belgian beer + moules = Belgian feast).  I combined several of recipes that I found on Food Network and Epicurious, and the results were delicious, the perfect meal for a slightly chilly and gray May day.  Mussels are actually quite easy to make; the most difficult and time consuming part was making sure the mussels were clean: pulling off the beards, scrubbing the shells and making sure they released any grit that they might be storing.  First, I dumped my 4.5 lb bag of mussels (from Whole Foods) into a large bowl filled with water, some ice cubes and 1/3 cup of flour (not sure why you need the flour, but that's how Ina does it).  I also prepared another large bowl of water with the same ingredients.  I pulled off the beards of the mussels using my fingers and a sometimes a paring knife, one mussel at a time and placed them into the sink until I collected a handful.  Then I scrubbed each mussel completely one by one and put them in the clean bowl of water. Then repeat with the remaining mussels, a handful at a time.  I discarded any mussels that were even slightly open or had shells that were particularly gritty.  I probably ended up with about 4 lbs of cleaned mussels in the end.  To cook the mussels was much easier:
  • Over medium heat in my Le Creuset 5 quart oval french oven, I drizzled a little olive oil and sauteed two links of chorizo, casing removed and chopped up, for about 8 minutes, until they were browned and cooked through.  I then removed the chorizo with a slotted spoon and put them onto a paper towel lined plate
  • Next, I sauteed 1 small onion, chopped up finely, and half a shallot, chopped up finely (I had some leftover shallot) in the pot with the remaining oil from the chorizo for about 5 minutes, until they were softened.  I then added about 6 cloves of minced garlic and sauteed them for another 1 minute.  I seasoned everything with pepper, a couple shakes of red chili flakes (~1 tsp), a couple of shakes of fennel seed (~1 tsp) and a little salt (you don't need too much salt, because the mussels and chorizo are salty)
  • Then, I added half a bottle of white wine (I used 2 buck chuck Sauvignon Blanc; I thought it was fine in the mussels, though it was pretty bad when I tried a sip straight), 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 1 TB of chopped fresh tarragon, a cup of halved cherry tomatoes 3 slices of a small lemon and brought it to a simmer
  • Finally, I added the mussels, a handful at a time (don't pour them from the bowl or else all the grit that they release will go into the pot), added back the chorizo, stirred it around, and covered with a lid for about 10 minutes, stirring it up every so often, until the mussels open
That was it! 4 lbs of mussels pretty much completely filled the pot, so it was perfect.  I just ladled the mussels into two large bowls and ladled the broth over the mussels, so there was nice chunks of chorizo and onion and shallots in every mussel.  I then sprinkled some freshly chopped parsley and dinner was served.  I discarded any mussels that weren't more than 1 centimeter opened.  I thought that the flavors worked really well together: the mussels went well with the spicy meatiness from the chorizo, with the added flavors from the onions / garlic / shallots, slight acidity from the lemons and tomatoes, heat from the red chili flakes and slight anise flavor from the fennel seeds and tarragon, and freshness from the parsley.  The broth was really really good, nice and rich, and very flavorful.

I also toasted in the oven an organic sourdough boule from Whole Foods, sliced about a centimeter thick.  When the bread was nicely toasted, I brushed it with olive oil and rubbed a clove of garlic, sliced in half, all over the bread, for some fragrant garlic bread to dip in the broth of the mussels.  We paired the meal with a large bottle of Schneider Weiss, a German hefeweizen (wheat beer) and Malheur, a Belgian dark ale (you can find both at Whole Foods).  We were stuffed; we ate all the mussels and most of the bread.  We didn't even have room for the chili shrimp cocktail that I made again for K. to try.  It was a great meal and I'm looking forward to making it again soon.
Before: two heaping bowls of mussels
After: a huge bowl of empty shells

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