STEAMED MUSSELS WITH LEMON GRASS AND TOMATO
DIJON AND SESAME CRUSTED CHICKEN BREAST
WITH VEGETABLES, FETTUCINE, APRICOT AND
BANANAS AND COCONUT CREAM
Please don’t be afraid of buying mussels. Just plan this meal when the grocer gets them in. Make sure they are all closed tightly. Don’t use any that are open, which means they are dead and you really can’t eat them. Place the mussels in cold water with a handful of cornmeal. This will plump them, and they will pass any impurities possibly gathered in the shipping and storing process. You can keep them in the water for at least an hour and as long as overnight. Lift them out of the water under cold running water, throw away any that have opened. Now you are ready.
If, and only if, you cannot find fresh black mussels, then look for the frozen New Zealand green lipped mussels. They are bigger and meatier but the flavor is not as acute. This kind of mussel is a picture of neon drama. They have bright green and black rippled shells, and pale yellow flesh, it fairly jumps up off of the plate.
You will need a pot of boiling water, a cone-shaped strainer, and a large high-sided skillet for this dish.
MUSSELS WITH LEMON GRASS AND TOMATO
20 black mussels
1/4 cup pure olive oil (virgin isn’t necessary for this)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 stalks green onion, diced up to the deep green
part. Use the green for garish.
1 stalk lemon grass, peeled and chopped
use the first two inches from the
root. If you can’t get fresh, try to obtain
the dried stalk and then grind it in your
mill. Powdered works, but use extra. Like any
powdered herbs the taste is a shadow of what
you’re looking for. Powdered = 2 tablespoons.
2 tablespoons fresh ginger. Peeled and minced.
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt and pepper mix
Wash the mussels in very cold water and place them into the strainer, lower the strainer into the boiling water and let them cook until they all are opened. Lift the strainer out and set it aside in the sink to drain.
Heat the oil in the skillet on high heat. Add the garlic and onion, then lift the pan off of the stove and turn the heat to medium high. Stir, add ginger, tomato and tomato sauce, heat until it begins to bubble and add the mussels. Be careful at this stage, the sauce may pop if you’re too rough in stirring the mussels and sauce. Stir the mussels so that they take in all the sauce. Add the basil, salt and pepper, and lemon grass. Stir. Let them cook in the sauce for a couple of minutes so that all the flavors blend and incorporate into the mussels. The taste will be deep and flowery, with a hint of citrus.
A splash of lemon juice, red wine or both adds a nice touch to this dish. The lemon or wine will brighten the flavor. As with all recipes, when you’ve got it down and can replicate the dish, then experiment and build on what you like. Use lime, orange, guava puree, peach juice, pear juice, currant juice, etc.
Slowly, ice melting around the shells,
sleek, black ships waiting,
smell of the sands and tides
rising from the refrigerated air…
and she turns from the mounds
of chopped tomato and vidalia
to the stalks of lemon grass
and deep green fresh basil.
“Come here, peel away the skin
from the base like this,”
and the room filled with the fragrances
of crushed tangerine and lemon leaves
from the single bulb of lemon grass.
And if I didn’t know better I would swear
I was standing in the groves
of the Indian River,
but I wasn’t, it was we in the kitchen
with the greens of Mandalay,
with mussels from the heart of Hudson Bay.
<Note for side panels:> OK, let’s talk about herbs. It’s a known conceit of chefs and gardeners to use fresh herbs as much as possible and we expect everybody else to do the same, and that’s not fair. Granted, we cannot replace the flavor and beauty of fresh, herbs, but we can at least approximate in a pinch. We all have a cabinet full of dried herbs, or at least a few essentials such as oregano, thyme, basil and bay, and now we hope that lemon grass and cilantro are there as well. Here’s what you do to get the best out of the dried stuff: Wash and dry your hands. Place the herbs in your palm, now clasp your hands together with your thumbs opposing, and rub the herbs into a powder. Open your hands and smell. Pretty neat, huh?
The oil from your hands, plus the flavor release from mashing the herbs does the trick. That’s as close as you are going to get to fresh from dried. It’s a primitive version of the mortar and pestle, and that’s not a bad thing, it works. When you try this method do it directly over the dish as you prepare it so that you get the most out of your effort.
The coffee mill. This thing is great for quick grinds and the powdering of peppercorns, dried lemon grass, coriander seeds, kosher salt, chilies, et al. Use and wipe out with a dry cloth or paper towel.
The mortar and pestle. Marble or wood. Use this and use this often. It is as old as food. Some prefer the wooden variety for its earthy feel and texture. I like the clink and clean sound and feel of marble. They are most useful for blending herbs and seeds, for curries and compound spice mixtures. Just put your coriander or cardamom seeds in and mash them around with the pestle. Inhale, yep, that’s what dinner smells like. It’s nice to use when two are cooking together, which is what this book is all about, because you can blend herbs and talk and move around in the kitchen without getting in the way if you are the one doing the grunt work, uh, being the assistant.
<End panel note.>
The next dish is a stir-fry and I recommend that you use a wok. Otherwise use a very large, high sided skillet. You need even heat for optimum cooking.
The wok: Use a carbon steel, stainless steel or copper-bottomed
wok. Carbon steel is the best because of its ability to evenly transfer heat. Season by rubbing with corn oil and rock salt and heating it on medium heat for about thirty minutes. Maintain by cleaning with warm water only, no soap. If it rusts then clean with an abrasive cleaner and soft sponge. After you have cleaned it reseason the pan. There are non-stick woks on the market now that are pretty good, you don’t have to worry about acidic reactions staining the pan. The choice is yours, authenticity or modernity that actually works.
The hottest part is the bottom. The sides are where you push the parts of a dish that require less rapid cooking, or when a sauce is reducing and you don’t want the particular ingredient to overcook. An average wok will hold about a gallon and a half of liquid. They require very high heat for the best results. Even heat is essential; this helps you to cook an entire dish in one place with speed and control over the process.
Always oil the wok before cooking in it. Don’t use virgin olive oil, as it will catch fire. The oil with the highest resistance to burning is corn oil. Use corn, peanut, vegetable or a blend of olive and canola, or a blend of olive and corn or peanut oil. If you are using butter then add it late in the stir- fry. Once you are used to using a wok you will find it difficult to just use a regular sauté pan. The wok, like the iron skillet is essential to a well-rounded kitchen. The iron skillet holds heat longer. The wok returns to high heat faster. You blacken Cajun dishes in an iron skillet, you sauté in a wok.
As the book progresses and your skill increases you will more fully understand how the wok works. Experience and, trial and error teach more than any volume of literature can.
SESAME AND DIJON CRUSTED STRIPS OF CHICKEN BREAST SAUTÉED WITH MIXED VEGETABLES, APRICOT AND SOY OVER FETTUCINE
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sesame oil
10 ounces chicken breast sliced thin into 20 strips
2 tablespoons brown mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup sesame seeds
Dust chicken in flour.
Coat chicken in honey mustard mix. Roll chicken in
sesame seeds so that it is completely covered. Set
aside on plate.
5 medium stalks asparagus sliced long and thin
2 medium carrot peeled and very thin sliced
1 medium yellow squash cut in 4ths and sliced thin
1 large yellow onion cut in 4ths and sliced thin
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup apple juice (optional)
8 ounces fettuccine (will yield 12 oz cooked)
<Note for side panel> If you have access to fresh pastas, then by all means be experimental and buy them. Just remember that cooking fresh pasta is quite different from the cooking methods for dried. Just drop it in boiling water for about a minute or two, stir it around and immediately mix it with the sauce. A flavored pasta such as tomato, lemon or orange would go well with this dish. Otherwise, stick to the recipe until you feel more comfortable with branching out which we will do in later chapters. <end note.>
Cook the pasta, rinse in cold water and set aside until ready to mix with entree.
In a large skillet or wok, sauté the chicken and onion in butter. Stir with care, you don’t want to burn or dislodge the sesame seeds. Add sesame oil. Add the vegetables, turn up the heat and cook until the asparagus is shiny and just crisp. This is the very definition of stir-fry.
Add the juice and horseradish and cook until it begins to boil. Add apricot, soy and sugar. Stir. Reduce heat to simmer. Taste. Adjust if necessary.
NOTE Is it to your liking? Does it need anything?
This is the part where you have the chance to design the dish to your personal tastes. If you are happy with it then by all means continue, if not, then think about what you have added and what you might like more or less of. If more, then add, if less, then add more liquid to cut the flavor. Maybe you like ginger or garlic, basil or cilantro. This is your moment and no one else’s. Both of you taste it, that’s what this book is all about, cooking together for your own happiness and pleasure. END NOTE.
With the pasta still in a colander wash it under very hot water, then shake off all the water and drain.
Turn heat on sauce up to high. As it begins to boil add the pasta, and stir so that it is all mixed together and hot. Remove from heat and divide between two plates. Eat.
BANANAS AND COCONUT CREAM
You are going to make more than you can eat in one sitting for this dish. Why? Because you will freeze the leftovers and make milkshakes with it for a later menu. YUM!
4 cups coconut milk. Shake the can before you
open it so that the milk and cream mix.
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds bananas, firm. If red bananas are
available use them and cook longer,
they are great for cooking.
Place everything except the bananas in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil, simmer and stir occasionally with a whisk for about ten minutes. There should be no lumps and it will be slightly thick, just enough to coat a spoon with a thin film. Don’t let it rise to a hard boil, this will separate the milk and scorch the pan!
Peel and cut the bananas in two-inch long slanted slices. This is called cutting “on the diagonal.” It looks like an oblong circle. Add to the mixture and stir with a spoon until it returns to a low boil. Simmer two to three minutes.
Remove from heat and pour into small bowls. You may eat this warm or at room temperature.
If this seems too unusual and you want to do something to make it a little more familiar, then pour it over thick slices of pound cake. It’s good either way. Freeze the leftovers. There’s a recipe for that later in the book.
So it’s like this, OK?
You cook, I’ll chop,
I’ll do anything,
Anything to be here
Where we are close,
We are doing,
We are in our lives together.
Together. . . through the steam
And color of our finished table
It is just you and I
In a moment shared,
In a moment here.