Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trading In My Glass For A Pint

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Mussels are plentiful at this time of the year, which is fantastic news for any seafood lover. Mussels are a wonderful shellfish, with its sweet, juicy flesh and delicate flavour (and must less pungent than oysters, if you're not as keen on seafood). It's also so simple to make, yet always makes a great impression at the dinner table.

I like my mussels to be simply made so as not to mask the natural sweetness of the meat, especially if you're buying fresh mussels. What a waste it would be to use fresh mussels and bake them with cheese or that recipe for the frozen mussels during the off-season. But when you are lucky enough to get your hands on some beautiful fresh mussels, there's no better way to enjoy them than steamed. You retain the natural flavours in the mussels, and you also get to enjoy the delicious broth that comes with the mussels, infused with all the juices that dripped from the mussels as they slowly opened while steaming.

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Perhaps the most popular way to prepared mussels is Moules Marinère, mussels steamed with white wine and herbs, often served in France and Belgium with a side of french fries. I love moules marinère because of it's simplicity and the delicateness of the broth, and it's a good way of using a white wine that I'll always have on hand in my pantry. However, I wanted to try a little something different this time, and since I still had a few bottles of Carlsberg lying around, I decided to steam the mussels with beer instead.

What I got in the end was a deliciously rich broth; the beer helps intensify the flavours and makes the broth a bit more robust without overpowering the delicate and natural sweetness of the mussels. The addition of the chorizo sausage also adds another layer of flavour to the palate, and really helps round out all the flavours. Absolutely delicious served with lots of crusty French bread to soap up all the delicious broth!

Beer-Steamed Mussels
Serves 3 to 4

2 lb mussels, bearded and scrubbed well
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small Chorizo sausage (or substitute a spicy sausage, like Italian or Andouille), chopped
1 red pepper, diced
½ cup celery, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 340-mL bottle beer, preferably light (like an ale)
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
Handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large pot or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add olive oil and/or butter. Add celery, onion and garlic and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add chorizo and red pepper and cook for another 5 minutes until chorizo is golden brown.

Add the beer, lemon juice, mustard and the mussels. Cover and steam until mussels open, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in chopped parsley. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the delicious broth!


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