Thursday, January 6, 2011

Inexpensive Luxury: Mussels Cooked in a Tomato Anchovy Sauce

The first restaurant I ever ate at in New York was Balthazar. I had just landed in the city, was using the weekend to get my bearings and to heavily weigh the possibility of becoming a "city" girl. And I'm not talking about city as in living in a heavily populated area, I'd spent the past 5 years in the Metroplex, which is nothing to sneeze at. No, I'm talking about THE CITY. New York City. So I got all dolled up and went out on the town to the chicest place I'd heard of and what did I order? Why the seafood tower of course! With a side of frites. (And yes, I was with a friend and we shared).My love of shellfish started at a very young age. My parents have tales (tall or not) of me gulping down raw oysters at the tender age of 3. My family tradition was to ring in New Years every year with a steamed lobster. And crab... oh crab was a rustic delicacy in my household. I have memories of spreading out old newspapers, heating up butter and dumping freshly boiled crab claws with a liberal sprinkling of Old Bay on the table and then it was every man for himself. No one in my family is shy about their love of shellfish.

But growing up in a landlocked city within a state where shellfish was not readily available, it tended to be expensive. And even here in New York where it's plentiful, a single girl on a budget does not have many opportunities to indulge. So when I saw at Whole Foods they had 2 lbs. of PEI mussels for $5.99 I jumped at this gift from the heavens.
Preparing Mussels

1. Scrub the mussels to remove any sand or dirt. Toss out any that are chipped or broken and tap on ones that are opened already, if they don't close within the minute throw them out.
2. Pull out the beard (the fuzzy, stringy thing that sticks out between the shell) and submerge the mussels in cold water with a Tbl or so of flour mixed in (the flour helps the mussels expel any grit or sand). Let them soak for 1/2 an hour- or while you prepare the sauce to cook them in.

Tomato Anchovy Sauce
Adapted from Marcella Hazan

2 Tbl. live oil
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped or minced (your preference)
2 Tlb. chopped italian parsley
1/2 c. red wine- tip: if you don't like to drink it, chances are you won't like to eat it
3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped*
1 16oz can of crushed tomatoes- I like San Marzano

1. Heat oil in a skillet at medium flame and saute the garlic and parsley together. Add the anchovies and, stirring constantly, allow the anchovies to melt into the oil. Add the wine once anchovies have melted and let reduce by 1/2

2. Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a low simmer. Let simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes (you need enough sauce to cover the mussels in but not too much that it's totally watery). Salt to taste. Add the mussels and cook until they open and are pink, about 4-5 minutes. Serve in bowls with garlic french bread.

If you want, you can serve over pasta but I find the bread to be carbs enough. I also like to pick my mussels out of the shell before I eat... it's lot of front end work, but more enjoyable on the back end. You can sprinkle with some Parmesan or breadcrumbs.
*If you absolutely hate anchovy's you can substitute with capers for a similar briny taste, though the anchovy's are not as overpoweringly fishy once they're cooked, think more of nutty and salty, a great depth of flavor to go with the mussels.

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