Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Time to flex those mussels
Food writer Lindsey Nair
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Roanokers, by and large, are not much on mussels.
When I called Capt’n Paul’s Seafood last week during an emergency attack of must-have-mussels, manager George Lawson said I was in luck but only because one other Roanoker had gone to the trouble to pre-order a mess of the Canadian-spawned delicacies.
“Except for maybe at Christmas when some people like them in seafood gumbos or stews, this just isn’t a big area for mussels,” Lawson said, adding that he’s happy to order them if you call ahead. (Last week I found them at both Capt’n Paul’s and Fresh Market for $3.99 a pound.)
This collective snubbing of mussels is wrong, people. It’s as wrong as Mill Mountain without the star, as wrong as chopped garlic from a jar.
It’s wrong, as in: Two of the most memorable meals of my life featured mussels in a yummy garlicky sauce. If you’re a fan of gravy sopping trust me on this you’ll love mussels not just for the tasty mollusk hiding inside the shell, but also because you can’t beat dipping crusty bread into the aforementioned sauce.
I hit the mussels bonanza on a trip to Quebec City recently after a chance meeting with a buddy in Roanoke, who suggested I check out his favorite French restaurant in the world, which just happened to be about five blocks from the condo we were about to rent.
He couldn’t remember the name of the cafe L’Ardoise, it was called; it took me about 10 minutes to sniff it out. But he recalled that it served all-you-can-eat mussels Belgium-style with your choice of 14 different white wine-based sauces, including garlic, cream, basil and blue cheese.
“My only regret is that we were too full after the first serving to order a second,” he said.
We talked about his mussels meal for longer than it had taken him to consume it. Such is the fervor a good bowl of mussels inspires.
As the celebrated food writer M.F.K. Fisher put it: “From about my fourth year until whatever may be my last, I’ll have known that uncounted mussels steamed open … and eaten hot from the shell with plenty of melted butter and lemon juice make a supper fit for dreaming.”
Roanokers may not be hip to this yet although I hear that Rockfish Food & Wine on Grandin Road serves a killer bowl, swimming in a curry sauce. But Canadians, with their French connection, have long been fans of les moules.
When I checked in with Roanoke potter Jude Prashaw, who hails from the Ottawa region of Ontario, she was all over the subject.
Prashaw dug through her files to share her sister Nancy Prashaw’s killer mussels recipe (at right), first whipped up in North Bay, Ontario, and she kindly offered these mussels-cooking and -eating tips:
n Mussels are no good if they’re already open when you buy them, or if they refuse to open when you cook them. Discard.
n If you steam your mussels in a bath of chopped garlic and/or shallots, butter, chicken broth and white wine, you can’t go wrong.
n Bread sopping: She concurs. It’s key to the experience.
n Serve them on individual plates or in bowls, but always ladle some of the sauce into individual smaller dishes for bread-sopping.
n Eat the first mussel shell with a fork, but after that do it like the Canadians: Use the first shell to pinch the remaining mussels out of their shells.
n A plate of mussels + a loaf of bread + a great salad = a great summer meal that won’t heat up your kitchen because you can cook the whole thing stovetop and in about 5 minutes.
Bon appetit, eh?
‘They came after me!’
Those were the frantic words of Roanoke City Market peach guru Mark Woods after my Aug. 2 column featured his Cuppa Cuppa Deal peach cobbler recipe. Apparently, a number of disappointed readers came by Mark’s stall and e-mailed me as well to say their cobbler came out flat as a peach pancake.
“You didn’t say the flour should be self-rising,” he claimed.
“You didn’t say it should be self-rising,” I claimed.
“I did so!”
And so it went, until we finally called a truce on the matter, with him handing over his first Gala apple of the season (delicious) and yours truly agreeing to reprint the thing one more time. Here goes:
Melt one stick of butter in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Add 1 cup of self-rising flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk, and stir. Slice as many peeled peaches as will fit on top and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
My apologies for not checking more carefully.
NANCY PRASHAW’S MUSSELS
2 or more garlic cloves, minced
Butter (“She’s a typical cook no measurements,” her sister Jude reports)
3-4 chopped green onions
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
Loads of fresh mussels (sauce proportions scaled for 2-3 pounds mussels)
1/4 bottle of sundried tomato and oregano dressing
Feta cheese (optional: “I think our brother added that part”)
In a large stock pot, saute garlic in butter, then add green onions to the mix, stirring for a minute or two. Add broth and white wine, then throw the mussels in and cover with lid.
Steam until the mussels open; it doesn’t take long check them after 3-4 minutes. Add dressing at the end, then remove whole shebang from pot.
Sprinkle feta or any other toppings that might make for good sopping. (The L’Ardoise chef adorns his with sliced cooked onions, then serves the mussels in giant individual bowls. The mussels float happily in the sauce, and a stack of empty bowls is provided for shells.)
This goes especially great with a Belgian ale-style beer, such as La Fin du Monde, though even nine out of 10 Canadians agree: It’s hard to beat Redhook’s India Pale Ale.