Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 35 - Steamed Mussels with Wine and Saffron and Basic Green Salad Mix

Today, I served lunch to my ice cream machine-giving friend, Adinah, and our mutual friend, Lynn. As luck would have it, just before they arrived, two pieces of furniture were being delivered and assembled in my living room, and there was nowhere for us to eat. So we moved my folding card table into my bedroom and ate in there! That's a first!

Adinah tipped me off that Lynn likes to eat light and that mussels are a favorite, so this menu seemed to fit the bill.

Steamed Mussels with Wine and Saffron (p. 217)

I've never cooked shellfish before! With the exception of shrimp, I have no experience with fish of the shell. So this recipe is a bit of an adventure.

I bought the mussels at Fairway. They came in 2 lb bags, so I ended up with 4+ lbs for three people, even though Martha thought I needed only 3 lbs for 4 people. One bag just looked too small. The mussels were quite clean, and there were only a few dead ones in there.

I prepared all the ingredients beforehand, because this cooks quickly. I'm finding this is the only way to handle cooking and entertaining at the same time. In the past, I'd be finding my way through the recipe (chopping, slicing, measuring) with people hanging around waiting to be served. So much pressure! Better to have everything ready to throw in. So I sliced the shallots and garlic, I chopped the tomatoes and parsley, and I measured out whatever was left.

Once the cooking begins, it's about 8 minutes to mealtime. And I think everything went pretty well. I think this is a dish that seems more laborious than it is. Maybe that's because I never knew how quickly mussels cook. Six minutes in a hot pot, and they're all open. So easy.

I forgot to put the chopped parsley on top at the end, so know that this assessment of the meal does not include the taste of parsley.

The consensus was that the flavors of the broth were great and that the mussels were well-cooked. (I'm learning that saffron is not my favorite flavor, though.) What we weren't crazy about was the mussels themselves. It could be the season, it could be that Fairway doesn't sell great mussels, it could be that they might have benefited from a little more cooking time. Some of them were perfect, some of them were fishy tasting, and some of them were gelatinous. I think the rule of thumb is that if it's open, it's cooked, but those gelatinous ones seemed like another minute of steam might have brought them together.

I don't think I'll ever find out, because I don't like mussels enough to repeat this, but it was really cool to make them once. And the whole shell experience is sort of fun, watching them pile up, then using bread to sop up the broth...

Lynn, who grew up in Montreal, showed us a French custom, which is that after eating the first mussel, you take that empty shell and you use it as your pincer utensil to eat the rest of the mussels from their shells. Does anyone else do that?

Incidentally, we ate about 3/4 of the mussels, so I think Martha's amounts could be more generous. I'd estimate a pound a person. It's mostly shell.

Jeff: A- (Could I have cooked them a little longer? Should I have held out for better mussels?)
Martha: A

Basic Green Salad Mix (p. 354)

I've been making Martha's dressings, but I haven't been serving them on Martha's green salad. I've been buying the easy bulk greens. (Heresy!) This is the first time I've actually followed Martha's tips for assembling a green salad, which today included a head of red leaf lettuce, a head of Bibb, and a bunch of watercress. These are chosen for texture and contrast, as outlined by Our Lady M. (I skipped the Boston lettuce because I knew I already had four times what I needed.)

There's no comparison between the ease of mesclun greens and the labor of rinsing, washing, spinning, drying, wrapping in paper towels, crisping, tearing, etc. But there's also no comparison between the taste. This green salad was so fresh and delicious. I added a little extra touch, which was shaved fennel on top, just one more fresh flavor in the mix. And I topped it with a whisper of Martha's Lemon Vinaigrette, my favorite dressing in the book so far.

It's classic, it tastes great, it's beautiful, and it's definitely worth the time. It's not for when I'm in a rush, but if I have the time, I will definitely make this again and play with some variations... other greens, other add-ins, etc.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Side note: Following up on the subject of barley, I've been adding the leftover barley to all sorts of foods and sauces and ingredients, and I have to say, I'm impressed how well it's adapted itself to many different environments. It's a great way to add healthy body to a dish. I'm becoming a barley-lover...

Until we eat again....

Lynn (L) and Adinah (R) at my bedroom lunch table!

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