Monday, December 7, 2009

Check out my luscious mussels.

Thanks to Ashlyn F for the recipe inspiration and the great pic.

No one likes to be the buzz kill.

Take a conversation on Twitter the other day where I tried to gently educate folks about unagi (eel) and how it is likely on its way to extinction. Some people were surprised to hear this and lamented how it is their favorite item to order at the sushi bar. Others were shocked, like my buddy Ashlyn who couldn't believe her last piece of unagi was less than stellar and now literally her LAST piece of unagi. A few seemed to have already gotten the memo. Then there was this memorable response, from a sushi chef who informed me that - and I quote - “you can take my unagi when you can pry it from my cold, dead, chopsticks.” I replied, probably too quickly, "well then, you won't be surprised when it's all gone." And yes my eyebrows shot for the sky and I was air-snapping as I typed my response.

I’m no Southern belle, but I do recall hearing that you can catch more flies with honey, so I linked to an alternative recipe for faux nagi– a dish concept developed by Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment” Casson Trenor. It's made with black cod (other versions employ catfish). It's luscious and sexy and before you know it, will replace that old over fished unagi pumped full of chemicals and that -- that is a very good thing, indeed.

I’ve been working on a sustainable seafood cookbook due out from Sasquatch Press in April 2011. One of my many goals in this book is to steer readers towards fish that have been well-managed while not putting too much pressure on any one species (diversity is key). I'd like people to understand that all wild fish is not good and all farmed fish is not bad.

Farmed mussels are a good example – they cook up quickly and deliciously and at least for now-- are very reasonably priced, around $4 a pound here in Seattle. Mussels are considered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to be a Best Choice. Unless things really take a turn for the worse, I don’t imagine anyone will need to pry mussels from your cold, dead, chopsticks. So eat up, and throw it back with some beers because no one likes to be a buzzkill.

But first, check out this short video I took on a recent site visit at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, WA. Here, a machine is washing the mussels while workers split the tangled ones into individuals. You might want to turn your volume down or off for your viewing pleasure.


Baked Mussels with pancetta, vermouth and parsley

Serves 6 as an appetizer

2 pounds mussels -- scrubbed and de-bearded (see note)
¼ cup Vermouth, dry white
2 ounces pancetta -- small diced
¼ cup shallot -- finely minced
1 lemon -- zested
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parsley
¼ cup panko -- or substitute bread crumbs
¼ cup Manchego – grated (can substitute parmesan)
rock salt, as needed


Preheat broiler. Place rack in the lower middle of the oven.

Place the mussels and vermouth into a sauce pot over high heat and cover. Cook just until mussels pop open, about 2-3 minutes. Remove them with tongs just as they open (to prevent overcooking). If any of them refuse to open, you can discard them. When the mussels are done cooking, strain the liquid left behind and reserve. Let the mussels cool.

In a wide saute pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until it releases some of its fat, about 5 minutes. Add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot is soft, about 5 more minutes. Add mussel cooking liquid, lemon zest and cayenne and deglaze pan, reducing juices until they are dry. Remove mixture to a bowl and fold in mayonnaise. In a separate bowl, mix parsley and panko.

When mussels are cool, twist off the top shell and discard. Place the mussels in their shell on a sheet pan that is covered with rock salt (to stabilize the mussels and keep the juices in). Top each mussel with a small amount of the pancetta-shallot mixture and then coat with the top with some of the parsley-panko mixture. Top with manchego.

Broil mussels until the topping is light brown, about 3-5 minutes. Don't overcook or the mussels will get tough. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

Note: Scrub the mussels free of any dirt and de-beard the mussels by grasping the little stringy bit and pulling it down towards the hinge until it comes off. Do this just prior to cooking the mussels as they will die after you do this.


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