Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Living and Eating on the Edge

Who knew that I liked to live so dangerously?

Well, besides me, who knew?

I consider my most reckless days to be behind me, for the most part. At least I don’t actively look for ways to do myself direct harm – i.e. have fun – quite so often as I used to.

For the last few weeks, I have had a growing urge for mussels. Quickly steamed in a hot broth of reeking of garlic, wine and tomatoes. With a crusty baguette to mop up the broth. A sure fire cure for a cold winter evening.

But no luck. Mussels could not be found. My Asian market, serving at least 20 varieties of fresh fish every day, plus all manner of fresh clams, oysters, lobsters, crabs and shrimp, said they didn’t carry mussels.

That should have been a clue, I suppose.

But in my mind were the wonderful dinners I had had in Munich, and Amsterdam, and Paris, in months with an ‘R’ of course, where buckets of mussels were served just as described. In either red wine or white. Sitting in some tight, crowded, noisy little restaurant heated like a furnace against the freezing cold wind blowing outside. With more mussels piled in buckets on the table than any one could, or should, reasonably eat. And wonderfully fresh bread. And lots of wine. And the piles of empty shells left after the feast.

So I persevered.

And looked harder.

At my special fish store, that I go to only occasionally, mainly because it’s somewhat of a drive, I was really surprised that they also had no mussels. I was sure they would stock them. But the owner, who actually mans the ship that does the fishing up around the channel islands off the coast of LA said he would not stock anything he would not personally eat.

Fair enough. But why wouldn’t he eat one?

He’s afraid of dying. He’s afraid of eating one bad mussel, especially from ones caught around here, and getting PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning), or something like that.

Jeez. All I was looking for was a pot of mussels, steamed in garlic, wine and tomatoes. Dying was not on the menu.

Apparently, things are to the point that eating a California mussel, one of the most common sea foods in existence, is basically a lethal proposition.

The fish guy told me that farm raised mussels, from New Zealand, the green lipped ones, were probably safe enough to eat. And there were other mussels, also from farms in other parts of the world, what might be edible. But he wouldn’t eat them either.

Hell, you only live once! The fish guy told me I could find some of these farm raised mussels nearby, at a different fish store, so I did it. I jumped off the cliff and bough 4 pounds.

Everyone in the shop, apparently there for all things other than mussels, turned and looked at me when I made my order. Or so it seemed to me.

And I finally made my mussels. As part of a New Years Eve dinner. Because fish is supposed to bring good luck for the new year! Not Death!! I have to admit we all sort of looked at the bowl of steaming mussels for a second or two before tasting the first one.

But they were fine. Delicious even. And I had lots of crusty baguettes to mop up the broth with. And plenty of wine. And we had a mountain of empty shells when we were done.

I was only missing an overheated, crowded little restaurant with a fierce, cold wind blowing outside. Someone opened the door, I sipped my wine. I could almost hear the wind howl!

(I don't have a picture of the final dish, cause it was New Year's Eve, and we had lots of champagne, which does not go well with driving or photography)

Print Recipe

Mussels in Garlic and Red Wine over Linguini
Serves 4
Recipe by surfindaave

4 pounds fresh mussels, washed in several changes of cold water, and the shells and beards scrubbed off under cold running water
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
½ cup finely chopped basil
2 pounds linguini pasta
Fresh baguettes

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to package instructions. When the pasta is cooked, drain well, but do not rinse. Place in a large heated serving bowl, and toss with some olive oil. Keep warm and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large, heavy pot, heat several tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until softened. Add the garlic, stirring, and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the red wine and red pepper flakes, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the mussels, stir quickly, and cover tightly. Reduce the heat to medium high, and steam the mussels, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, and stir in the tomatoes, basil and parsley. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Scoop the mussels and sauce over the pasta. Discard any unopened shells. Sprinkle with additional chopped parsley if desired, and serve immediately with the baguettes and a green salad. Enjoy!

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