As you may already know, Fellow FoodBeest, I really love mussels. I love that they are shellfish. I love that they take me to the shore. I love that they have virtually no calories. I love that they are inexpensive. I love that they are fast and easy to cook. I love that they are a great way to share a meal with friends.
Mostly when we make mussels, we use the basic Julia Child technique from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: sautéing some shallots and garlic in olive oil, adding a little white wine (or good Belgian ale) and then the mussels and you’re basically done. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But I wanted to try something different. I got a yen (get it, Fellow FoodBeest? Yen?) for mussels cooked some new way and I discovered the Momofuku “Oriental” version published in the official Momofuku Cookbook.
Momofuku is a hip New York foodie’s dream – or nightmare. The Momofuko chain of four Asian-style restaurants, all under the supervision and design of Executive Chef David Chang, is as cool as it gets in New York. The restaurants range from Momofuku Noodle Bar where a $9 pork belly stuffed bun is the most popular dish (and waits start at about 30 minutes) to Momofuku Ko, a 12-seat (no, that’s not a typo – twelve) restaurant where reservations are legendary for their difficulty to obtain, the three-hour prix-fixe lunch is $175 and the two-hour dinner is $125.
The Momofuku version called for ingredients with which I was totally unfamiliar and, with everything else on my plate, I just didn’t bother trekking up to Argyle St to find them, otherwise, I’m sure I could have found ssamiang, gochuiang, or denjang.
Now you may know what those things are, but I certainly didn’t. It turns out that ssamiang is a “wrapping sauce,” a thick spicy Korean paste that goes on food that then gets wrapped in a leaf (like lettuce).
Gochujang is a savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt.
Denjang is a Korean-style fermented soybean paste, rather like miso.
So I stood in the Asian section of Whole Foods, looking for something like what I wanted, hoping that I would find something that worked. I wound up with plain old Japanese white miso shiro paste, which I suspect was no match for the complexity, pungency and heat of the Korean variety.
The resulting pan roasted mussel dish was very good, but I am sure it wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been if I had gotten the real deal. Next time.
What You Need To Make Momfuku Asian Steamed Mussels
½ C of fermented bean paste base, preferably some combination of ssamjang, gochujang, and denjang. I used fermented Japanese miso shiro paste.
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 T chopped scallions
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 lbs mussels
¼ C mild oil (grapeseed, canola, etc)
1 cup dry sake
freshly ground pepper
½ C julienned scallions (for garnish)
How to Make Momofuku Asian Steamed Mussels
Clean your mussels, and heat up a pot large enough to hold them.
While the pot is heating, combine the bean paste, vinegar, garlic, chopped scallions, and ginger in a bowl and set aside.
Add the oil to the pot, and cook the mussels, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the sake, cover the pot, and steam until the mussels open, about 4-5 minutes.
Push the mussels to one side, then and add the fermented bean sauce mixed with the scallions, garlic and ginger. The mussels will have given up their liqueur so you want to stir the bean sauce into the liquid at the bottom of the pot. Then carefully toss together the mussels and the sauce.
Use a skimmer to remove the mussels to either individual bowls or a single serving bowl. Be sure to throw out any mussels that didn’t open. Then pour the pan juices over each dish and garnish with the julienned scallions and fresh black pepper.
This will serve four people generously. Have lots of good crusty bread to sop up the broth.
Oh, and one more thing. Make more than you need. The leftover mussels and sauce are great over pasta the next day.