This recipe for mussels and chorizo was eagerly anticipated this week – I was privileged to get to pick the seafood recipe from Around My French Table that the French Friday group would be cooking this month. But mixed in with the excitement was a bit of trepidation; I order mussels all the time in restaurants and love them, but I don’t think I’ve cooked them at home since the late 80’s (oh my) when I discovered that our local Asia Mart brought in fresh mussels to sell every Friday.
Living in a landlocked part of the country, the only really good fresh seafood to be found was either priced out of my budget, or consisted of locally caught freshwater fish like lake trout or perch. And as D points out those latter items are not seafood. “Its not from the sea.” Smarty pants. But that’s what I get for living with someone born and raised near to a coastline. And even though I want to rush in and defend the great fish I grew up eating (Smelt! Eat them tails!), I have to admit, in the end, one of the reasons I moved here was that finding and eating good fresh seafood in all its forms is simply a given; from shrimpers selling on the side of road with a hand made sign out of a pickup truck with the tailgate down, to the uber-fresh tuna in the grocery store, to the packs of “spot” from your friend the seasonal angler who simply can’t fit another bag in the spare freezer in the garage.
So back to those mussels. This was also a great opportunity to try out the 5 pound bags of mussels our local Costco brings in on the weekends along with crab, clams in the shell, fresh shrimp, lobster tails, scallops, and salmon. The mussels are Canadian and farmed, and while I like buying local seafood, and do my best to do so, I must admit I also like the Costco price of $1.99 a pound. In the freezer I had a couple of links of leftover Spanish chorizo, the firm, slightly smokey, spiced pork sausages that you might find flavoring a rice dish like paella. And all the rest of the ingredients like garlic, thyme, peppers, tomatoes, are things we keep on hand – what an easy dish for us!
I’m glad Dorie mentions in the Around My French Table recipe for moules mariniere (fisherman’s mussels) a few pages prior to this one, that she uses whatever white wine she has on hand or open in the fridge and sometimes goes with a softer white, one that’s not “exceedingly dry.” I love recipes that use up the odds and ends of wine that always seem to be left in our fridge after a party. In this case, I ended up with a mix of about one-third white zinfandel and two-thirds vino verde, both softer but still dry.
The dish went quick, as long as you ignore the point at which I realized my 5.5 quart Le Creuset was not going to fit the 5 pounds mussels and had to switch to the “big daddy” pot, the 13 quart. At some point, I’d love to have a dutch oven of an in between size, since “big daddy” weighs more than 20 pounds empty (still coming in slightly smaller than their 15 quart “goose pot,” but not by much!) and the whole pot won’t fit in our sink for washing! (yet another reason to remodel the kitchen 😉 ) After switching out the pans, sauteing the vegetables and aromatics, tossing in the chopped chorizo, adding the washed mussels and then the wine might have taken all of 20 minutes total, plus 5 more for the steaming.
I’ll admit, I scrubbed and picked over the mussels extra carefully, making sure they were clean and not broken, but really trying to make my fingers reach for some distant physical memory of those oh so long ago bivalves that would fire my cooking synapses and reminded me this recipe was going just as expected. In the end, it eluded me, but I tossed the tightly closed shells in the pot, then the wine, shut the lid and hoped for the best.
Worrying was all for naught; the shells opened up beautifully. The sauce was piquant with wine and tomatoes, but not too sharp, mellowed by the sweet mussel juices, onions, peppers. The chorizo added a smoky salty flavor with just the right touch of spice. The thyme was subtle. D bumped chicken with cognac out of first place and declared this one the best Dorie recipe yet, and I have to agree.
If you are so inclined, check out what the other chefs had to say about this recipe at French Fridays and since we are not publishing recipes, you should check out Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan where ever good books are sold.