Friday, August 27, 2010

NEW FEATURE - How to make a great meal on a tight budget -------- Installment 1

Ok, with just about the wholeworld suffering from a tightening of the economic belt, I thought it might be a good idea to start highlighting great ways to use inexpensive ingredients to make delicious dinners. I definitely am a fan of the "economy cuts of meat", as well as some of the less sexy seafood options (Tuna and Crab are great, but so are skate wing and mussels). Usually these items have great flavor, but may take a little more work, either on the prep side, or on the length of cooking. Totally worth it.

Now on to installment one ---------------- LES MOULES
I love mussels. My wife loves them even more. When I make them the Nick to Danielle consumption ratio is generally 1 to 2, if I'm being generous. No matter, they are cheap and easy to get, so I just make lots. I'll include my 3 favorite mussel preparations here so that you have some options, but if you take the basic techniques to cooking mussels, there are endless flavor combinations that you can create. They work in french, italian, thai, japanese, american, and many other flavor profiles, so play around.

I usually use PEI mussels because they are nice and sweet, and readily available, but use whatever mussel looks, and smells the freshest and you'll be doing well.

Before cooking mussels, there are a few steps we must go through to get them ready. First, cover them in very cold, salted water for 5-10 minutes. This is called purging them, and without getting into too much detail, it will guarantee you don't have any grit or graininess in your mussel or sauce. You don't want to skip this step, trust me. Second, we must "DEBEARD" them. Not every mussel, but most will have a small, wispy, twine looking thing sticking out of their shell about half way up. Simply hold the mussel securely, and pull up and away to remove this. It may take a little tugging, but usually comes fairly easily. Lastly, look through your mussels. If any are open, and don't close up after being handled, discard them. They have already passed from this mortal existance, and as Alton would say, are no longer "good eats".

The classic - Mussels in white wine sauce
1 lb mussels
1 lg shallot, sliced
2 cloves, garlic, sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 head italian parsley, chopped, reserve a tblsp or so to garnish
1 thai chile, diced, this is optional, and really not classic, but I like a little heat
6 oz white wine, I prefer it to be a drier white, but whatever you have'll probably work
2 1/2 tblsp butter, mmmmmmm butter
1 large roma tomato, diced
4-5 large basil leaves, chopped rough
S + P to taste

1)Melt 1 tblsp of the butter over med-high heat, add shallot, garlic, chile, and thyme and saute until shallot is translucent.
2)Add mussels, add toss to coat with butter. Saute 30 seconds.
3)Add remaining ingredients, except butter and basil, cover pan and let simmer for 5 minutes (ish), check and see if most of the mussels are open. This can be 2 minutes, it can b 8.
4)Uncover pot, and add butter and basil. Swirl in pan, moving constantly, so that reduced wine and butter emulsify. Season with salt and pepper, and serve

I serve this a number of different ways: over a soft polenta with parmesan cheese, over crispy oven "fries", over fresh pasta, or most often, and most simply, over grilled crusty ciabatta. It's delicious with all of them. If you want to make moules mariniere, simply add some home made pasta sauce to this recipe when you add the butter, and voila!!!

Wine Pick - I really like an albarino with my mussels. The minerality of both go really well together. A good, easy to find one is burgans, but there are a lot out there.

#2 Chilled Mussel Salad
I really like this dish for a summer dinner, or a picnic, or dining on the patio, or whenever really.

1 lb mussels, steamed in salt water for 5 minutes, or until opened, then chilled
6 cloves roasted garlic, (to roast garlic, simply cut the top of the heads of garlic off, cover in oil, cover container in foil, and bake @ 225F for 90 minutes) I always keep some around, it's good in just about everything
3 oz mayonaisse, I would say make your own aioli, but that's another post
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 carrot, grated
1/4 english cucumber, julienned (cut into thin strips)
1/2 red onion, shaved super thin
1 thai chile, sliced thin
2 strips of bacon, cooked super crispy, & crumbled
1/4 head fennel, shaved thin
1 tblsp basil, chopped
1 tblsp italian parsley, chopped
S + P to taste

1)combine zest, juice, carrot, cucumber, onion, chile, and fennel in a bowl. Season lightly, and marinate for 30 minutes.
2)Mash garlic cloves into a paste, and combine mayo, mussels, and bacon with it
3)Drain excess liquid from veggies, leave just a little bit for flavor, but not too much or the mayo binding will become runny, and mix veggies with mussel mixture and herbs
4)Serve with crusty grilled ciabatta or the bread of your choice

Wine Pick - Sancerre? I think it's a perfect pairing, but there are a lot of different ways to go on this one. I, personally, don't love chardonnay, but it would work here. A crisp SB. A Verdejo. Ahhh, choices.

#3 Beer Braised Mussels
Braised is a bit of a misnomer, since they still don't cook for very long, but I think it sounds more appetizing than "Beer Simmered", so we're going with it

1 lb Mussels
1 good beer, I use IPA or brown ale. If you cook with pabst, it'll taste like it
1/2 red onion, diced
1 tsp molasses
1 jalapeno, diced
1 tblsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
2 1/2 tblsp butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
S + P to taste

1)Melt 1 tblsp of the butter over med-high heat, and add red onion, garlic, jalapeno, & rosemary and saute until onions start to color. Add lemon juice and molasses and cook 30 seconds.
2)Add beer, and reduce by 1/3. Add mussels and don't cover. Simmer for 5 minutes
3)Whisk in butter. Season with salt and pepper.

I prefer this over mashed potatoes, or oven fries, or just with a crusty piece of bread.

Wine Pick - I would probably drink a beer with this one, but if I was going for a wine, probably a juicy red, zin or primitivo, or something in that vein.

ENJOY, and let me know what you think.

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