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A Dream of Summer Seafood

August 5, 2010

Me: I had a great day at the beach in Rhode Island yesterday, and some WHOLE BELLY fried clams and a lobster roll. Mmm! Why are scavengers and filter feeders so delicious?

You: Whole belly clams are disgusting. And I wish we could have fewer conversations about scavengers.

Me: I love summer seafood, but this summer it’s been hot like fire, and humid as if if you were a lobster who did not die of natural causes, if you know what I mean. This fact has contributed to a lack of grilled mussels and clams, but I am ready to rectify that.

You: I love mussels, too. But I love them in restaurants! I’m not going to make my own, because I wouldn’t know where to start.

Me: You should try it, because it’s easy and delicious and if you have, say, children, you can just make this after they go to bed for a fast and cheap and easy romantic dinner.

You: Please stop calling me fast and cheap and easy.

Me: I call ’em like I see ’em.

FACTS

Fact: Mussels are very easy to cook. They cook as soon as you apply heat, and they even have built in timers: their shells open when they are done.

Fact: They are naturally delicious, and your job is to help them realize their natural potential. It’s like getting the right frame around a piece of art — except much easier. I should not have mentioned framing art, because that’s difficult and expensive and stressful. This is the opposite of that. It’s more like buttering a piece of bread, and not only because it involves butter, and bread.

Fact: Mussels taste great with a garlicky sauce on them. And their juices help to make a garlicky sauce better, which is why you eat so much bread and so many french fries when you have mussels. And the sauce is so good that some people, like my mom, just like to eat the sauce with bread, and don’t even care about eating the mussels.

Fact: When I say mussels, I mean mussels and clams.

Fact: This requires no fancy equipment, and no weird ingredients (other than mussels). You don’t even need a grill: you can do the whole thing on the stove if you prefer. The grill is just fun and well suited to celebration and spectacle.

LOOSE GUIDELINES

I am going to provide annoyingly loose guidelines instead of an actual recipe, because basically, you can’t screw this up. Just choose which permutations sound good to you.

Use about a half a pound of mussels per person. Clean by rinsing under cold water. If any don’t close when you touch them, throw those away. If any have cracked or broken shells, throw those away, too. Scrub the mussels and pull out any thready or leafy bits along the seams. I usually just do this with my hands, but pliers can help.

Make a broth (stovetop) by cooking onions and garlic or shallots in plenty of butter or a combo of butter and olive oil. Glug about cup of beer or white wine per pound, and make sure it bubbles off the alcohol. Add some tomatoes (canned, fresh, cherry, but slice them small) and an herb (basil, cilantro, or parsley will kick butt, but feel free to experiment with others, like tarragon.) Make sure to squeeze some lemon in there (or with beer and cilantro, lime would be good.) Add more butter, and season with salt, white or black pepper, and if you want, something spicy like crushed red chilis, or a fresh jalapeno or serrano, or a small shake of cayenne.

Taste it. Is it delicious? Do you want to drink it? If so, you’re on the right track. If not, adjust seasonings (or just add more butter.)

If you are using the grill, heat it to high.

Put the broth into a shallow baking pan: a metal 13 x 9 x 2 would be perfect, but anything that isn’t glass will work. (Perhaps I should say: anything that is metal. Avoid obviously flammable pans, like those made out of paper. Or hair.)

Then put the closed mussels or clams in and put over the grill heat. Wait for them to open, and once they have, remove one by one with tongs, and place into a serving bowl. (If necessary, cover the grill but check every minute or so.)

When you’re through, pour it all into a big serving bowl, clatter clatter clatter, including all of the mussel or clam juice. If any don’t open, simply discard those. Enjoy with a well-dressed green salad, french bread, and a sweating bottle of white wine.

IF YOU’RE ALREADY GRILLING . . . .

You know, if you’re already grilling, you may as well put some corn on there too, husked but wrapped in foil. Corn will take about a half an hour, though: longer than the mussels, so start sooner. And perhaps finish with some halved and pitted peaches, coated with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar and yes, you know what’s coming: salt. Eat with ice cream and perhaps a squeeze of lemon.

Mmmmm, summer.

Thanks to viZZZual.com for use of this photo, released under a Creative Commons license.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Julia permalink
    August 5, 2010 10:57 am

    Love this!!!

  2. Mark permalink
    August 5, 2010 1:11 pm

    I’m curious: why the foil recommendation, rather than grill in husk alone? True, husk will char, but you don’t eat it anyway. And anyway I wish I had access to any corn at all, or any mussels, or a grill, right now. Will have to try do-it-yourself mussels soon.

    • August 5, 2010 1:16 pm

      come over to ours and we’ll make some! as for husk vs. no, i don’t know, some people say that you have to remove the silks to avoid a conflagration, and also soak the corn, and i don’t like those ideas. but now i read that you can just grill it in the husk and not worry. if you can do that, then i approve, i’m the sort who doesn’t salt eggplant or pre-boil lasagna noodles, so i would eat unhusked corn if i didn’t have to do things like soak it.

      • Murray permalink
        August 6, 2010 7:58 am

        re: Corn — I take it home from Farmer’s Market, put directly on grill. It steams up in its own sweetness in 5 – 7 minutes. Turning frequently to get the outer husk nicely charred evenly on all sides (well, all around, I mean… since there aren’t really “sides”). I shuck it after the fact, which is tricky since it’s very hot. But delicious, so difficult to wait for it to cool down a little, which would make the shucking easier. Oh well. Here in Maryland we get awesome Silver Queen white sweet corn from the Eastern Shore. Very special.

      • August 6, 2010 8:54 am

        It is becoming evident that all of my corn information is suspect! I defer to Murray.

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