Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mentally Muscling Through Mussels

I live in the Sonoran Desert (a somewhat fancier way to say I live in Arizona) and no matter what George Strait says, there are no ocean front properties here. This means that my East Coast born and raised mother never included seafood on our grocery list except the occasional package of frozen fish sticks for me as a child. I can't say that I blame her, she grew up with access to great local seafood and before the days of flying in fresh seafood daily, who knows when anything in our local grocery store had last touched ocean water. Then there was my first fish tank at age nine or ten -- every time I looked at my once loved fish sticks, I pictured my new pet angel and kissing fish staring right back at me. That was the end of that. Even worse, the only canned tuna that came into our house was for the cats. I honestly thought it was cat food for most of my life.

As a result, I am somewhat seafood phobic. I've had a lot I've liked over the years and a lot that confirmed what I don't like about seafood as well. I have moments of bravery in the grocery store at times and will bring home some sort of fish or shellfish but it sometimes makes it to the trash can before a pan as I semi-avoid the neatly wrapped package in my fridge. I've made several successful fish and shellfish dishes over the years but it never seems to help me to overcome my mental block for the next attempt.

We went to Costco yesterday, for their seafood event, hoping to find and try some king crab legs but they were all sold out. What they did have though, were a few gorgeous bags of mussels. I had been told that Costco carries great mussels so we decided to go for it. There are two restaurants where we always get mussels, House of Tricks which has an amazing charred tomato and cilantro vinaigrette sauce and Caffe Boa whose white wine, butter and garlic mussels (although sadly no longer on the menu) never fail. We're currently trying to follow a whole foods for 30 days eating plan so wine is off the list. As a result, I endeavored to make my own charred tomato based sauce. We do all know that mussels are all about the sauce, right?

Chorizo Curry Mussels

Fresh mussels steamed in an Indian inspired charred tomato, onion, red pepper, garlic cream sauce.


for the mussels

  • 2-3 pounds fresh mussels, in their shell
  • a large bowl or sink full of cold water
  • a kitchen towel

 for the sauce

  • 4 large tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and torn into large pieces
  • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
  • 6-10 garlic cloves, depending on your garlic tolerance or preference
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and quartered
  • chives or scallions (green onions) for garnish
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2oz chorizo 
  • 1.5t garam masala
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4tsp ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
  • 3/4tsp cumin
  • 1tsp paprika
  • 1C chicken broth
  • 1C coconut milk, half and half or heavy cream (your choice)
  • 2tbsp clarified butter or ghee (not necessary if you're using heavy cream)

Tip: has a great article on cleaning and preparing fresh mussels. 


Cleaning the Mussels

  1. place mussels directly into a sink or large bowl filled with cold water
  2. soak for 20 minutes -- you'll be surprised about the amount of sand they'll release
  3. pick through the mussels and discard any with broken shells or that are open to ensure you're the freshest mussels possible -- you may end up losing 1/4-1/3 of what you brought home so plan for this when buying
  4. as you sort through the mussels, wipe them down with a clean kitchen towel and use the towel to rip the beards off -- be sure to rip down to the hinge of the shell -- this is said to not kill the mussel
  5. keep the mussels in cold water until you're ready to drain and cook them

The Sauce

  1. place the tomatoes, red bell pepper, onion, garlic and jalapeno on a baking sheet lightly coated with the olive oil
  2. lightly pour more olive oil over the veggies and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  3. place in an oven, on the top shelf on broil for about 10-15 minutes -- keep an eye on them, as soon as everything starts to get toasted and begin to blacken, they're really to come out
    roasted vegetables after shot
  4. place the roasted veggies and any juice that may be on the baking sheet in a blender or food processor and puree.
  5. heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add 1T of extra virgin olive oil
  6. add chorizo and cook until cooked through and browned
  7. add the roasted vegetable puree and chicken broth to the pan, be careful as the liquid may start popping quickly, cover and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring often
  8. add the garam masala, ginger, coriander, cumin, paprika and stir until well combined
  9. simmer for five more minutes, covered
  10. stir in cream of your choice, add ghee if you're using coconut milk, stir well to combine
    final sauce shot
  11. drain mussels and place in pan, it's okay to crowd the pan but do not stack them as the weight may cause the mussels on the bottom to not open
    mussels after just being placed in the pan
  12. cover the pan and check the mussels at 4 minutes, 6 minutes and 8 minutes as necessary -- most of the mussels should be open
    open mussels in sauce after cooking

To Serve

  1. use a slotted spoon to strain out the mussels into serving bowls, discarding any mussels that did not open
  2. use a ladle to pour the sauce over the mussels
  3. garnish with sliced chives or scallions
  4. be sure to provide an empty bowl at the table to discard the shells

What I'd Change Next Time:

  • I used Mexican ground chorizo this time because it's what we could find easily without any added sugar or preservatives but I would recommend Spanish chorizo links to add texture to this dish