You had me at shellfish.
Give me a hard-shelled critter that comes from the sea. I don’t care if it’s a mollusc or a crustacean or an echinoderm.– a clam or an oyster or a mussel, a crab, a scallop, a shrimp, or a lobster. I’m there.
Of course I know Jewish Kosher laws forbid eating shellfish (anything “in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers” that does not have fins and scales). That not only includes shellfish, say the rabbis, but also whales, dolphins and other sea mammals, as well as swordfish, catfish, and sturgeon (so often found smoked in Jewish delis!).
Tillie, my very intelligent, very independent, very Reformed Jewish grandmother, chose not to keep a Kosher kitchen in the early years of the 20th Century. My mother continued the tradition. “To be Kosher is to be clean,” they said. “I keep a clean kitchen.” This post is in honor of both Tillie and her daughter Florence.
So I had a yen for the sea today. The truth is I’ve been thinking about mussels lately. Also clams and scallops. And, of course lobster. They’re all going into the FoodBeest kitchen rotation. And soon
There’s not much I don’t like about shellfish. It’s got the taste of the sea – and in fact one of the magical things about mussels is that they actually release the sea right into the pot. They cook up in about five minutes. You can eat tons of them and not worry about gaining weight. One mussel has a mere 7 calories. Seven. That means you can eat two dozen meaty, juicy mussels and consume well under 200 calories – about the same as a dry, tasteless, skinless chicken breast.
And it doesn’t hurt that you can get great mussels for about $5/pound or less.
Fellow FoodBeest, it really doesn’t get better than that. I’ve made mussels before and this time I got creative and improvised a bit with what I had and what sounded good. You can start with this recipe and then just riff with what you like and what you have available. Make sure you make it so that it’s the way you like it.
What You Need To Make FoodBeest Pan-Roasted Mussels
2 pound black mussels
2 garlic cloves
2-4 little red Manzano or Sweet Pimento peppers, chopped fine (I used a couple of mostly sweet little peppers from last week’s Farmers Market.)
¼ teaspoon fennel seed
1/8 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
2 fresh Heritage tomatoes, juiced, seeded and chopped or 4 fresh Roma tomatoes chopped (Roma tomatoes are meatier and don’t need to be juiced)
¼ C drinkable dry white wine (totally optional: you can also use a little beer or ale or you can omit it entirely if you don’t want to add alcohol)
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
How To Make FoodBeest Pan-Roasted Mussels
Rinse the mussels and pull out any “beards” that sick out of the shells. The beard is actually a bit of seaweed that is caught inside the shell. Discard any mussels that are broken or that that are open and don’t close when you tap their shells gently. If the shells aren’t closed, Fellow FoodBeest, it is likely that the mussel is dead – and you really do want them “alive-alive-o!”
In large sauté pan (I used a wok) heat oil then add garlic, peppers, seeds, and seasonings and stir until the garlic just starts to color. Keep an eye on it. If the garlic burns, it will be bitter.
Add mussels, tomatoes and wine. Cover and cook four minutes until mussels start to open. Add parsley salt and pepper.
That’s it to satisfy 2 very hearty eaters.
I also served a homemade coleslaw that I made by shredding a whole small Savoy cabbage, julienned green pepper and cucumbers, and a tablespoon or two of grated onion. I wanted to add carrots for color, but couldn’t find a single carrot in the veggie drawer, not even one of those “baby carrots” in a plastic bag. Unlike me, you might want to think through what you need before you start cooking so you know you have what you need, Fellow FoodBeest. Or, if you want to use one of those packaged coleslaw mixes in a plastic bag you can do that too.
I tossed the veggies with maybe a quarter-cup of mayo, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, a packet of Splenda, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a little salt and pepper and a shake or two of cayenne pepper. I got lucky and it was one of the best coleslaws I’ve made: a perfect combo of sweet, tangy and slightly spicy.
In addition, I peeled two small Idaho potatoes, cut them into strips and let them sit in a bowl of ice water for about a half-hour. The ice water bath removes a lot of starch from the potato and they are less sticky.
Then I dried the potato strips and tossed them with 2 T oil, ½ t salt (should have used more), ¼ t pepper (could have used more of this, too), spread them out on a baking sheet and roasted them for about 30 minutes at 425°F. They were not as crispy as I usually like, but they were very tasty and not nearly as fattening or greasy as real fries. And served it with homemade ketchup!
More Cockles and Mussels coming up. Watch for it. In the meantime, please take a moment and share your experiences with your favorite shellfish in the comment section below.