Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mussels in Honor of Iowa

It had been a long and busy week, and we were looking for something special to eat before watching the Iowa/Iowa State game. The six-hour time difference is a bit inconvenient, but we make the most of it by eating a big meal before the game, which is harder for our Midwestern friends and family at 11 a.m. Yet somehow, we American football fans are always able cram in as much (or more) food and beer than we can handle before a game at any time.

We had a jug of (almost expired) heavy cream in the freezer and I always have plenty of homemade hard cider on hand, so I decided to grab some fresh mussels from Molloy's in Donnybrook, my main seafood source.

I started putting my plan together. Normally we have mussels with white wine and French bread, but I wanted to keep this cheap, and I had all day to put this together. We had really loved having mussels with French fries in Belgium (called moules frites) and I have been honing my potato frying skills lately.

I decided to be safe and go with both carb sources.

Fries in for the First Dip in Oil
Fries in for the First Dip

Bread for Sauce Shlurping
Bread for Sauce Shlurping

Having only one saucepan like we do, some careful planning was required for a complex meal like this. Like I've done so many times here, I put together a careful pan schedule, making good use of a warm oven to keep the first foods warm while making the next round. 

I gave the fries the first dip while I cut up the aromatics for the mussel sauce.

Onion, carrot, and celery for mussels
Mussel Aromatics

When the potatoes were finished with the first fry (floating in the oil and starting to brown), I removed them from the oil and kept the heat cranked to high. After a probably-too-short rest, they went back in for the crisping dip. Irish and English chips don't seem to get this second dip treatment, because they must prefer a thick, soft fry to a thin, crispy one. Just a regional preference, I suppose.

The finished fries came out of the oil, and I had to use a brewing trick to get the oil to a safe temperature for pouring from the saucepan. I put a few inches of ice water in the sink and set down the blazing-hot, oil-filled saucepan into the cold water. My oil thermometer told me right away that my plan had worked! The oil was cool enough to strain and save in a few minutes.

Now for the hard part. Into the same saucepan went some butter and aromatics while I cleaned and debearded all the mussels. Some recipes instruct the cook to individually scrape off all of the small barnacles that grow on some of the mussel shells with a little pick. That's much too much work for me, so I just let them go with a good scrub and a beard pull.

When the vegetables were cooked, I threw in the garlic for a few seconds before throwing in about a cup of hard cider. Once the cider had cooked down a bit, I threw in the mussels- just until they opened. Once the shellfish were done, I pulled them all out and finished the sauce with the cream. As soon as the creamy sauce was hot, it was ready to do with the fresh bread and french fries. Served with mayonnaise and ketchup, of course!

Good thing the food was good, because the Iowa game was a difficult-to-watch disaster.

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