It is week 8 on Top Chef and the competition is more than halfway over. Now that some of the weaker competitors have been eliminated, the quality of food if higher than ever. This week, the chefs had to cook using ingredients that the Judges selected while shopping at Whole Foods. Adam struggled with Judge Richard Blaise’s basket, but Doug made the winning dish, keeping it simple with mussels and chorizo.
After weeks of making recipes that require hours of preparation, it was nice to change it up with a recipe that is elegant but can be made in under 30 minutes. I love mussels for two reasons; one, coming from a land locked state, I tend to gravitate towards shellfish whenever I am given the opportunity. But I also love the part where you get to eat a loaf of bread while sopping up all of the leftover juices. When I order mussels in a restaurant, I think it is a total waste if I’m not given some good quality bread to go with them. So, Doug didn’t serve bread with his mussel dish, for me the bread is of equal importance. Which gave me a perfect excuse to try my hand at making sourdough.
Since Thanksgiving, I have been working on my first sourdough starter. The cold weather has put me into a baking mood, and I have become obsessed with baking bread. I’ll discuss more about my adventures in baking in a later post, but for now, check out my very first loaf of sourdough bread. The bottom is a little bit burnt, but I was pretty proud of the crispy crust and the amount of airiness I managed to achieve.
But bread baking isn’t really the point of today’s post. If you don’t feel like making bread, pick up a nice loaf from the bakery section of your grocery. But some kind of bread is a must. Don’t make mussels without it.
Before we get started, let me give you a list of ingredients you will need. I’ve adapted this recipe from the cookbook The New Spanish Table by Anya Von Bremzan. Like most of the cookbooks I use, it is available on Scribd, and has over 300 Spanish recipes including numerous tapas recipes like the one I am sharing today.
- 2 pounds of Mussels
- Spanish Chorizo
- 3-4 Roma Tomatoes
- Clam Juice
- White Wine
- Red wine vinegar
- Pinch of sugar
Such a short and easy shopping list!
Cleaning and cooking mussels- without giving yourself food poisoning
Mussels are one of those foods that are easier to make than most people expect. Growing up in a Midwestern state, I always saw cooking seafood as somewhat mystical. I assumed that without a special, seafood cooking skill, I would give myself food poisoning if I tried to cook shellfish. For a long time, I thought of clams, mussels, and oysters as special items I had to go out to a restaurant to eat. But by using the magic of the internet, I’ve come to learn that these items are less complicated to prepare than I had thought. Plus they cook quickly and I can procure them from the grocery at a fraction of what they would cost in a restaurant. There are just a few basic facts I had to learn about mussels.
The first thing you have to know about mussels is that, they are alive when you buy them, and they need to be alive when you cook them. To keep my mussels healthy, I stored them in a large bowl. To keep them cold and damp until I was ready for them, I filled a freezer bag full of ice and laid it on top of the mussels. Then I covered the whole thing with a damp paper towel and stuck them in the fridge. You want to make sure they don’t get too warm or too dry prior to cooking. But if you take care of them, they should be OK in the fridge for a couple of days, if need be.
Whenever I read about preparing mussels, I always see the phrase “scrub and debeard.” This sounds more complicated than it really is. It just means you need to clean the moss and dirt off your mussels, and pull out a mossy string that will be stuck between the two shells. This string, or “beard,” is what mussels use to attach themselves to surfaces. Some farmed mussels might be sold already cleaned; I think the rule of thumb is, if they look clean, they are ready to go. If they are covered in moss, and don’t look the way they normally do on your plate, they need some prep work.
I rinsed mine under the kitchen faucet, and scratched off any debris and moss. There was quite a bit, but it came off easily. The “beard” is a sticky string that will be attached to the mussel and, in mine, blended in with the rest of the moss. You can pull it out by tugging it from side to side. Don’t freak out if it gives some resistance; the mussel doesn’t necessarily want to let it go, but you are stronger than a mussel. The mussel will remain shut, even after you tug out the beard. When your mussels are clean, there shouldn’t be anything stuck to the shell, and no moss should be hanging from your mussel.
The final, and most important thing to know about cooking mussels is, toss out any mussels that are open. If the mussel is slightly cracked open, give it a little tap on its shell. If it closes back up, it is fine. But if it is gaping open, the mussel is dead and needs to be tossed out. It’s not overly complicated.
Once all of my mussels were cleaned and ready to go, I put the ice pack back on top and put them in the fridge until they were ready to be cooked.
Fried chorizo and tomato broth- oh my!
With the mussels under control, I could now focus on the second main part of the dish- the chorizo! When you buy your chorizo for this recipe, make sure you get the Spanish style and not the Mexican style. Spanish chorizo and Mexican chorizo are completely different. Mexican chorizo is generally sold uncooked and ground. It is also what will be more commonly sold at the grocery. Spanish chorizo might take a little more effort to find. It will be cured, and resembles salami or smoked sausage. I got mine at a local specialty Wine and Cheese Shop. I probably could have also found some at Whole Foods, but I prefer to support local business when possible. Plus, the fact that a shop dedicated to selling wine and cheese exists is just awesome.
Anyway, chop up the chorizo and mince some garlic.
Heat a table spoon of olive oil in a deep pot, and saute the chorizo and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until the chorizo is crispy. Remove the chorizo from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Dice 3-4 Roma tomatoes and add to the pot. Cook on low heat for 7 minutes. Add one cup of clam juice and one cup of white wine, and a pinch of saffron. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add a pinch of sugar and a couple tablespoons of the red wine vinegar to your pot. Get the mussels out of the fridge and gently add them to the tomato mixture. Cover the pot and cook the mussels on medium high heat for 5-7 minutes. Shake the pot around occasionally if you want.
Once all of the mussels have opened, stir in the chorizo and garlic, add some chopped parsley to the top, and serve with some good sturdy bread.
If you have a large serving bowl that works best. But I made due with my plates. If you are serving guests, don’t forget to provide an extra bowl for people to put the mussel shells in.
Ta-da! A super elegant and easy to cook dinner. It would make a great family style appetizer for a dinner party, and look impressive too. Enjoy!