Brooks (brooksmoses) wrote,

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The "How I Actually Cook" Chronicles: The Mussels Episode

Tonight was one of those nights where [personal profile] suzannemoses is out, and there wasn't anything in the fridge that was particularly collated into "dinner ingredients." There were leftovers, but I was not really wanting most of them.

What there was, primarily, was a large bag of mussels from our community-supported fishery. I've specifically opted out of getting bivalves from them, because Suzanne doesn't like them and so they often just go bad in our fridge rather than being eaten. But someone else forgot to pick theirs up, and so (being the person who cleans out the delivery cooler at the end of the day) I ended up with them.

There was also a half-eaten takeout box of cucumber salad from a local Chinese dumpling place. I took this out and ate the rest of it while pondering. This will be relevant later.

Clearly, though, the solution was to cook the mussels. The fishery had suggested this recipe for mussels in white-wine broth, so I looked there for inspiration.

Mussels, in most recipes, annoy me. This recipe was no exception.

The recipe called for cooking the mussels, making a cream/broth/white-wine sauce, and tossing the mussels with the sauce while still in their shells. The result is that you have to pick the mussels out of the shells at the table, and you get lots of lovely delicious sauce on the shells that you're not going to eat, and a plateful of shells only produces a tiny amount of actual mussel meat.

On the other hand, the recipe did give me a basic idea of how to cook the mussels -- clean them, put them in a pot with about a cup and a half of liquid, and steam for 6-10 minutes until the shells open. The recipe suggested a mixture of chicken broth and white wine, but I had no chicken broth and figured watered-down white wine is probably a waste of wine, so I just used water.

And then, since the container for the cucumber salad was handy, and had a couple of tablespoons of liquid in it that seemed to mostly be a sort of miso-based briny liquid with a good bit of diced raw garlic in it, I dumped that on top. Why not?

Once the mussels were done cooking, I took them out of their shells. From a full 3.5-quart stockpot, I ended up with a 6-ounce custard dish of shelled mussels.

I noticed that the remaining water in the cookpot was fairly cloudy, so I tasted it, and it turned out to be a fairly strong shellfish-broth. (And more of it than the water I'd put in; I think there was some salty water in some of the mussel shells.) Score! I poured it into a tub to freeze for later use, and pondered what to do with the mussels, because a 6-ounce custard cup of meat is not really a dinner.

It occurred to me that a thing one usually finds with shellfish to bulk out the meal is pasta, so I hunted around and found a half-used bag of casarecce pasta (sort of dense little twists) to use. Now, for some reason -- presumably lots of Rice-a-roni meals -- I keep thinking of Kraft Mac-and-Cheese Dinner being cooked with just enough water for the pasta, rather than being drained. And thus I thought of doing this that way, using some of the mussel broth. So I put a cup or so of the broth back in the pan, along with a pat of butter since the recipe I'd looked at suggested it, and put in the pasta, and then -- predictably -- remembered that that was how boxed rice dinners work, not boxed pasta dinners.

Oh well. I remembered an article I'd read a couple of months ago on testing various ways of cooking dried pasta, which concluded that so long as there's sufficient soaking time and the right amount of cooking time (which usually overlaps with soaking but needn't necessarily do so), it basically didn't matter. And so I figured that doing it sort of like risotto -- adding bits of broth when it needed more, but not too much so it ends up absorbing most of it, and stirring often -- should be fine anyway.

And, indeed, that worked out. About halfway through I switched from broth to water. I also adjusted the temperature up a bit at the end because (as with risotto) I always forget that it is much slower taking in liquid when it's almost cooked and so I need to add smaller amounts, and so there was a bit of extra liquid to boil down.

I confirmed (by tasting a piece) that the pasta was in fact basically done, and then added a little more butter and the third of a cup of cream that was left in a container in the fridge from some cooking last week (or possibly week-before-last; cream keeps rather longer than milk) and cooked that down a bit, and put in a bit of pepper (also recommended by the recipe), and stirred in the mussels.

The end result was really, really good. The reduced broth and cream and starch cooked off the pasta made a silky-rich sauce, with a robust shellfish taste even in the bites without bits of mussel in them.

And so that's how I made dinner tonight from basically five ingredients including a bag of mussels, some leftover takeout cucumber salad, and a half-empty bag of pasta.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.

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