THERE ARE THINGS WE CANNOT TELL,
BUT WE ARE COOKING MUSSELS IN THE SHELL
Discovering love in the cold months takes a little imagination. The use of aphrodisiacal foods helps. A Puccini opera and an open fire can’t hurt either. Romance and love are two different things, related, but different. Mediterranean and Pan Asian may seem as distant as planets, but this is one earth and many seas, seas that were traveled in the 15th and 16th centuries by Spanish and Portuguese sailing ships. They landed and made their imprint from St. Augustine, Florida to Argentina, Hawaii to Singapore and back again. We will experience this connection by cooking fresh black mussels and the frozen New Zealand green lipped mussel.
Black mussels simmered in coconut water with cilantro, ginger, bird chili peppers, seafood broth, lime and glass noodle is our Pan Asian dish. Steamed with tomato, lemon, garlic, scallions, Pinot Noir and oregano with a garnish of fried shoestring sized potatoes is our Western recipe. Green lipped mussels baked with crabmeat and mascarpone cheese, topped with panko breadcrumbs and baked is our third and last recipe. You can accompany these dishes with rice, couscous, linguini, quinoa and any variety of french fry potatoes.
The Latin influence not only touched the architecture, language and culture but the food and romance as well. When we see similarities between the foods of different cultures we experience also the Romantic nature of the human spirit. Food crosses barriers first; language and romance then follow in like kind. This is why we always seem to set the stage for romantic love with exquisite foods. Love, as in the deeper sense of romance and friendship, needs a little help from time to time to find its way back into the heart. Food is the bridge. Mussels are our way across that bridge today.
When we watch travel cooking shows it is always through the food that the culture speaks. The narrator will give an American perspective first and then taste the food as a native to that country. “Tasting as” is the key. Put yourself into their perspective and then fully entertain the flavors. Experience new foods and cultures as prejudice free as you can. This culture speaks similarity and vast difference.
We will explore this duality by cooking black mussels two different ways and then baking the green lipped mussels. I’ve never seen fresh green mussels in America. In restaurants we use farmed Prince Edward Island mussels (PEI mussels) or white water mussels, which are wild, saltier and larger than PEI mussels. The wild are often called Mediterranean mussels. It is easier to find frozen green than fresh PEI in regular grocery stores. Call to various Farmer’s Markets and specialty grocers to see if they have what you need before planning or setting a date for your dinner.
ALIVE: check to see that your mussels are alive by gently tapping the base on a cutting board. The base is the smaller section where each shell meets. Mussels are “bivalves”, two shells. If they do not close then they are dead. Throw the dead ones away. Rinse them under very cold water and then put in a slotted colander. Cover with ice cubes and then refrigerate until time to cook. Don’t take them out ahead of time and DO NOT put a tight lid over the container, as they will die if deprived of oxygen. They will keep for 14 days from the date that they are harvested. You can plan on keeping them for 2 to 3 days.
Besides being food mussels purify the water. Cleaning the water is the function of bivalves as they clutch to rocks, boats, piers and the bottom of the sea; they purify the water. Most all seafood falls into the category of aphrodisiacs. For the mussel it is because of their shape, and the fact that they are all protein. Mussels have been found, along with shrimp, crab and sea worms alongside deep water volcanoes and chimneys. The temperatures here are over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Something with that kind of versatility has to be an aphrodisiac.
BLACK MUSSELS VIA SHANGHAI
As the title suggests these are mussels as I had them in a Cantonese restaurant in an ancient, multicultural and sleepless city on the river. Infused with British, Japanese, Shanghainese, Sichuan, Cantonese and Han/Mandarin Chinese, and then Dutch and Swiss influences it is no surprise that some restaurants will have several different takes on a dish. Shanghai has it all. When I first had this one the broth included chopped duck tongue with a bit of beak in for good measure. I just ate away at it crunching from spoonful to spoonful.
Saving the gentle cook from Sichuan specialties like duck tongue and chili pepper tapanade we will forego the genuine for the restrained. Adding it to a mussels and glass noodle dish is purely modern Shanghai; the only thing missing was a dumpling in the dish. You won’t find this in The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook.
I have an option of wheat free or aged tamari for this recipe. If you are on a gluten free diet then use the wheat free tamari. Aged tamari will give you a deeper soy flavor with a hint of oak.
36 mussels, rinsed, cold and alive
1.5 ounces cilantro, leaves, stalk and roots, chopped
1 ounce ginger, shaved thin
4 Thai bird chili peppers or serrano
6 ounces young coconut juice with pulp
4 ounces clam juice
1 lime, juiced and zest
1 ounce Sake
1 ounce wheat free tamari sauce or aged tamari
6 ounces (wet) glass/cellophane/mung bean noodles
soaked in the clam juice
Use a large wok or clay Dutch oven. Put everything except the mussels into the pot and bring to a boil. Keep it boiling for two minutes. Add the mussels and put a cover over the pot/wok/dutch oven. Let it cook for three minutes at a boil. Turn it off. Let it set for two minutes with the lid on.
Divide the mussels between two large serving bowls and then spoon the noodles and broth over the mussels. This is very country style that is very enjoyable with sour dough bread, sesame bread or french bread.
MUSSELS GEORGE GORE
I call these “Mussels George Gore” out of respect for a man whose palate and leadership helped to place Atlanta on the culinary map. He was General Manager for the Abbey and Mansion, two of Atlanta’s premier restaurants along with The Midnight Sun, La Versailles, Pano and Paul’s, and Nikolai’s Roof, which was at one time THE best restaurant in Atlanta. They were devoted to Russian style service that is the basis for Michelin stars. It was all before the next generation of chefs and their restaurants: Gunter Seegar, Linton Hopkins, Michael Touhy, Shaun Doty, David Larksworthy, Hector Santiago, Richard Blaise, Muss and Turner, Nicholas Bour, Scott Peacock, Kevin Rathbun and not so great, myself. That is a strong group of Chefs and they took Atlanta the rest of the way to becoming the expanse culinary landmark that it is today. George Gore sounded like James Earl Jones; he had that forceful presence and always seemed to stand taller than anyone in the room. All were humble before him, really. George loved to charm people and that is the stuff that makes for a superior restaurateur. And his daughter is a UGA graduate.
George was the man behind the helicopters bringing in first vintage Beaujolais from France for banquets celebrating this great wine. He fronted many a Chaines de Rotisseire banquet, the reception for Ronald Reagan’s second term in office and innumerable culinary functions in Atlanta. He really and truly was one of the most influential people in my career. Mussels were a favorite of his.
He commanded a restaurant with an enviable ease and yet could turn around and send the mightiest chef quivering to the kitchen battery. His wine lists are legendary. He was the force that for twenty years kept The Abbey and The Mansion at the top any list. He once told me that when he retired all he wanted to do was be a gentle maitre d’ for a country French restaurant. He has now simply retired but his stamp upon the food industry in Georgia will always be present. I can only hope that this recipe makes it way to him so that he fully understands the beauty of his way with wine and food. Louis Osteen was the inspiration to my career but it was George Gore that made me respect what is at the heart of cuisine and service. (The Mansion property is now the site of luxury condos and the Abbey has been turned back into a church.)
36 mussels, rinsed, chilled
4 ounces Pinot noir
12 stamens saffron, simmered in the wine
½ cup tomato, chopped and seeded
2 lemon, juice and zest
10 scallions, chopped white to light green only
24 fresh oregano, leaves only
4 cloves garlic, slices as thin as possible
Combine all of the above and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for five minutes
Divide into serving bowls and spray with the vodka:
½ ounce Peppercorn vodka in spray bottle
1 pound russet potato cut into very thin strips
1 cup peanut oil, heat to 350 degrees
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seafood seasoning
Fry the shoestring cut potatoes to crispy, drain and sprinkle with the Old Bay. Set fries on top of the mussels.
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated fine
Sprinkle over the mussels and frites.
NEW ZEALAND GREEN LIPPED MUSSELS EAST WEST
The New Zealand green lipped mussel is a major export. The green lipped mussel is so called because the shell is green and there is a green tinge around the edge of the inner shell. It has only one section so when you hold it up the meat does not open slightly like black mussels. I love these things and used to have them on the menu waaaaaayyyy back in 1995-98. Only reason I took them off was because the black mussels were coming in as a better overall fresh product. The only frozen these days are calamari and some of the shrimp. There is nothing wrong with the green lipped frozen product. It is plump, full flavor of the clean waters and easy to manage.
They are so high in antioxidants that green lipped mussel extract and powder is used for arthritis pain. The naturally occurring anti-inflammatory lipids make this a valuable tidal crop. Imagine that, all the reasons you are told that seafood is good for you are true. Of course we are here to enjoy their flavor, the energy that they produce and for the exalted joy of sharing a romantic meal.
2 ounces backfin crabmeat
2 ounces crab claw meat
2 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon madras curry powder
4 ounces panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
Gently combine and set aside.
16 green lipped mussels, thawed in the refrigerator
Put teaspoon of the mix on top of each mussel. Set mussels on baking pan.
Turn oven onto 450 degrees, or cook them on the grill with light smoke like apple wood. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from pan using a pair tongs because they will be hot.