What Pretty Mussels You Have!

I stopped by the retail seafood market this week and almost had a coronary at the counter.  The ONLY fish that was under $20 per pound was cod.  Are you kidding me with these prices?  Farmed salmon at $21 per pound (not even wild or organic farmed?)?!  Swordfish at $26 per pound?!  Tuna at $29 per pound?!  Are you out of your mind?!  Are they an endangered species?!  I will admit that I have been spoiled.  I kept my seafood wholesale account even after I left full time catering so I have not paid retail for anything out of the ocean in more than a decade.  But that day I didn't have time to submit an order and just wanted a couple of steaks of something, not 5 pounds, so I thought I would just run in on my way home.  Huge mistake.  But there in the case was the lonely bag of mussels, looking at me and waving.  $8 was way better than $20 so I took them home, trying to decide on the ride home what to do with them.

I have a dish that I do frequently called Sizzling Mussels and I can't remember where the recipe came from originally, but I have Frankensteined it enough to call it my own.  It is mussels steamed in wine and butter that are finished on the half shell topped with panko and Parmesan, sauteed shallots, fresh parsley, and the wine and butter left from the steam and broiled till golden and bubbly.  It is fantastic but really labor intensive.  I needed simpler.  I also had some smoked salmon that needed to be used and a new cookbook that had some beauties in it.

First up the mussels.  The Blind Pig has a mussel dish that I love and could put a straw in the steaming liquid goodness they use.  It seriously takes tremendous willpower to not tip the bowl up and drink out of it.  My version of it is fennel, shallots, beer, and broth.  Simple and wonderful.  Fennel is my new favorite ingredient at my house.  In the celery family, it has a more bitter taste and it adds a wonderful layer of flavor to dishes.  Saute fennel and shallots in olive oil and a tbs of butter until starting to caramelize.  Add beer and broth and bring to a boil.  Add mussels and steam until they are opened.  Discard any that didn't open.

The salad came from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook from chef Thomas Keller of the iconic restaurants The French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se and, of course, Ad Hoc.  It is a lovely cookbook with simple, elegant food that is not at all fussy.  The Roasted Beet and Potato Salad is a heartier salad that is perfect when paired with a lighter soup (or mussels) for dinner or on it's own as a substantial lunch.  The smoked salmon in it will take your mind's taste buds to bacon before fish.  The beets are wonderful and the sweetness of the potatoes balance out the earthiness of the beets nicely.  I substituted arugula for the chicory as it was more readily available.  I also find that I like more greens in it than he calls for.  Otherwise it is almost too rich.

The mussels were great and the salad was a perfect pair for them.  There was also enough of the salad left over to take for lunch the next day, so that is always a bonus.  We are building arks here this week.  I'll paddle over to get you when it's finished.  Til then, go get the Ad Hoc cookbook and peruse for awhile and think about your Valentine's table.  It will be here before you know it.


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