"The Artist" Cooking Personality: Mussels Provencal
If you follow my blog you may remember one of the first in which I described the 7 cooking personalities:
Due to its popularity and many requests, I have decided to offer a series of blogs written for each personality!
This week, I’ll tackle the Artist. (Figuratively speaking of course. No worries!)
You know that person with a style that is fun and one-of-a-kind? The type that think recipes and general cooking rules are more like friendly suggestions? They cook intuitively. They always think their food could use a little more something. They never cook the same thing twice... but only because they can’t remember what it is they did the first time. ;)
Here’s a recipe that will play to your strengths as “The Artist” cook: creativity and intuition.
Yes, this is a dish that will allow for plenty of free expression, to be changed or refined however you want so not to squash your creative flow. (Hmmm…. squash! Perhaps we’ll have to add some to this recipe! ;)
Yet, it’s a recipe that will hit you at your weakness: methodology and following the rules.
The Artist prefers the sauté method when cooking because it offers the ability to watch the composition come to life before your eyes. Sauté is also good for quick changes and unbridled inventiveness. For this I suggest a classic French dish, Mussels Provencal! It is cooked on stove top and uses its own pan juices for a succulent sauce. I encourage free style when it comes to the selection of vegetables, meats and seasonings. The sauce however, must be done in a very exacting manner to attain the true layers of flavors that are so indicative of French cuisine.
Let’s not waste any more time - to the recipe!
The traditional style in which recipes are written, lists of ingredients with step by step instructions, can be bland and rather uninteresting. (Must be the Artist in ME speaking! haha) Therefore, I would like to walk you through the recipe in an narrative style with little stories, hints and tid-bits along the way.
A Little History:
Mussels Provençal is a classic French dish from the Provencal area on the Mediterranean coast. Being on the ocean, seafood is a staple in this area and Mussels Provencal is a popular side dish. I however, prefer to prepare this dish as an entree.
It has everything you need for a well-balanced and nutritious meal. Let’s break it down…hmm on second thought - too boring! In summary I can tell you mussels are packed with protein, iron and antioxidants.
Let’s go with that and build on it!
Choosing mussels from a local fish monger or grocery store can be daunting. Is it fresh? Are they the right type? How do I know if they are going to be good?
There are all different species available however the type that you are most likely to find are farm raised blue mussels from Maine or Canada. They have a tendency to be small yet very sweet, clean and delicious.
Whatever type you choose though, freshness is of utmost importance.
To determine a mussels freshness, rely on your nose. Any smells of ammonia or fishiness is a big warning sign. The smell should not be strong at all.
You can also do the tap test. A mussel will slightly open its shell to breath. When tapped lightly the shell will close as the mussel is protecting itself from danger. If the shell does not close the mussel is most likely dead. Discard dead mussels.
The freshest are, of course, right out of the ocean if you are lucky enough to live close to one. My best memories of eating mussels were during a Kayak trip to Maine. During low tide you can walk out to the seaweed covered ledges and find thousands of them clinging to the rocks.
My land-lover friends from the mid-west were horrified when I pulled out a bucket of these blue-black mollusks and announced that we would be eating them for dinner. However, after steaming them over an open fire and tossing in some, butter, wine and herbs, I had them hooked. Every day of that week long trip I was asked, “When is low tide?!”
I digress, back to the recipe.
Prepping Your Mussels:
Now that you have your 3 pounds of fresh mussels, go through and make sure they are all good. Cracked mussels or mussels that do not close when tapped should be discarded. All good? It’s probably a good idea to de-beard them - and no, I do not mean get out the shaving cream and razor!
Mussels have hair-like fibrous growths on the outside of their shells that are used by the mussels to cling to the rocks. These are not toxic, but they aren’t terribly pleasant to eat. Remove the beards simply by gently tugging on them.
Once you have your mussels cleaned and de-bearded set aside in a colander.
Grab Your Tools and Ingredients:
Grab the largest sauté pan you can find. A wok works well if you have one or a large paella pan. Gather you ingredients together - or as the French would say “mise en place” (everything in its place). You will need 2 shallots fine chopped, 3 bruised (This means taking the skin off and giving it a whack between the knife and cutting board, the clove will stay whole it will just be smashed which will allow the juices to start flowing) cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoon olive oil, 1 cup white wine, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 cups of fresh diced tomatoes and 2 tablespoon butter. Once you have all your ingredients prepped and placed near your cooking area. This dish goes fast so it’s important to have everything close by and ready to be tossed in.
Heat the sauté pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and let it warm up. (It should be shimmering, but not smoking.) Once it is, throw in the garlic and shallots. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until soft and then throw in the thyme tomatoes and mussels.
Kick the heat up to high and toss the mussels with pan ingredients. After about 1 minute and when the pan is good and hot, add the wine and continue cooking and shaking the pan to get the mussels coated with all the delicious pan juices. Once the mussels open up, remove the mussels with “spider” (Sometimes called a “skimmer” – it’s sort of funky little wire mesh on a bamboo stick you can get at Asian markets.) and place in individual bowls.
Continue cooking the pan juices until reduced by 1/2. Add butter and cook until melted and evenly distributed. Pour the pan sauce evenly over the mussels and serve!
Do It Your Way:
That’s the basics. Now if you want to get creative you can add all sorts of things to the pan when cooking the shallots and garlic. You could add zucchini, or perhaps a little cooked bacon, or maybe instead of wine use chicken stock. The list goes on and on. As an artist, you are the master of your creation.
Cook with a reckless abandon mon’ ami! ;)