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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tender Mussels in Cider

Happy Holidays to everyone! It's Christmas day and while my family is multi-cultural, we do celebrate the holiday with gifts, and of course, lots of food. So stayed tuned; I have some down time to start sharing our feast with you, but there will be many, many recipes to follow.

Christmas Eve dinner was quite an event. I tried to prep as much as I could in advance, but we still ate late and I felt like I was in the kitchen for entirely too long. Well worth it, however. While we didn't have a Feast of the Seven Fishes, we did enjoy a number of seafood dishes. There was baked cod and salmon, some already prepared escargot and stuffed clams, and this recipe for mussels.

A few weeks ago I wrote about reading the book On Rue Tatin by Susan Hermann Loomis and how I swooned over both the description of her French house and the recipes she shared from living there. This recipe, called moules a la Normande or Norman-style mussels (she also calls it tender mussels in cider) was among them. I used to hate mussels but have recently fallen in love with them, particularly from a Maine company called Moosabec Mussels, Inc. They are practically faultless--they're de-bearded, clean, healthy, and once cooked incredibly large, sweet, and tender. Perfect for making this recipe.

In an attempt to get us fed, I decided to skip pictures. My apologies as I know that's half the fun.

Tender Mussels in Cider

6 lbs mussels
1 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 small shallots, sliced in half then cut into paper-thin slices
4 dried bay leaves
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup apple juice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Just before cooking the mussels, de-beard them if necessary. Rinse well and place in a large stock pot. Coarsely chop the parsley and add it, along with the shallots, bay leaves, cider vinegar and hard cider. Shake the pot so that all the ingredients are blended, and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. When it is boiling, reduce the heat to medium high and cover the pot. Cook the mussels until they are just open, shaking the pan from time to time so the mussels cook evenly. Once the mussels are open, continue to cook for an additional minute, checking the mussels frequently and removing those that are wide open so they don't overcook. If, after two or three minutes, there are mussels that refuse to open, discard them as they are either dead or empty.

2. Transfer the cooked mussels to a large serving bowl, or simply return all of the mussels to the stockpot. Season them generously with salt and pepper and serve.

The Verdict: Our son didn't touch them and we didn't bother trying, but the adults thoroughly enjoyed eating the sweet mussels swimming in delicious broth.

With just two of us eating them, I only cooked 3 lbs and halved the recipe; we still have plenty of leftovers. The broth is lovely, so I'm thinking about making some homemade pasta tomorrow or Monday and finishing the mussels and broth over fresh noodles. Also, the original recipe (and in Norman fashion) calls for hard cider. It was just a hassle to get an alcohol that we just won't drink, so we went the route of apple juice. Probably apple cider would be the better second choice, but honestly, it was delicious like this.

I served the mussels, along with the other seafood, with a apple and squash casserole which I will share in another post. Crusty bread is a great addition, though we had homemade Parker House rolls, made in part by my son and his best friend. Despite being made by two and a half-year-olds, the rolls were excellent. Making them was quite an ordeal. But I'll spare you the gory details of baking with two small children.

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