Friday, March 18, 2011

Seafood Extravaganza 2: Saffron-Steamed Mussels with Crème Fraîche


One might subtitle this post:
Or, Why Not to Cook When You Don't Feel Well.

It doesn't help that celery, fennel and leeks all begin to look rather alike--especially when cut into matchsticks. But have no fear--this "mistake" actually turned out well in the end...at least for the mussels

While on "Spring Break" which I affectionately refer to as "Break from Teaching, but little else," I've been focusing on going trough my fantastic Stir cookbook by Barbara Lynch. After conquering clams the week before, I felt it was time to try mussels, which, frankly, are more of a pain to clean. I wish I had looked at Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, because I just found a great description of how to clean mussels, but I managed. Mussels have these annoying "beards" that one must remove. I didn't soak the mussels as Garten recommends, and I wonder if this would have made the beard-removal easier. Moreover, half the beard stays IN the mussel, so I ended up removing them after cooking as well.

See the kinds of trouble I get into when I don't teach?

At any rate...one of the reasons I love Barbara Lynch is because she writes things about saffron like this: "I'm not going to be half-assed about it and call for the usual "pinch" or "a few threads." (Stir, 192). She's not kidding. Two teaspoons of saffron threads. I used slightly less than that, which came to about $10 worth of saffron.

So the "mistake" I made was cooking the fennel instead of the leeks and celery. The fennel is supposed to stay raw, combined with tomatoes, celery leaves, olive oil and lemon juice as a little salad-mixture to top the mussels. So, we had a salad mixture comprised of leeks, celery, and the aforementioned ingredients. Not terrible, except that I don't love raw leeks.

The cooked fennel, on the other hand, was lovely in the recipe. In butter and olive oil, I cooked the fennel with chopped garlic. To this I added the crumbled saffron, red pepper flakes, 2 cups of white wine, salt and the cleaned mussels. This sits covered for as long as it takes the little guys to open.

Once opened, I removed the mussels with a slotted spoon and made the sauce: basically reduce the broth in the pot and whisk in crème fraîche, letting it simmer for a bit. Serve the mussels in the bowl and pour the sauce over it. Serve with the salad-mixture on top (either my "version" or hers).

This was fantastic....and even better for lunch the next day! Funky salad-mixture not pictured below:
Note: Due to copyright, I haven't reproduced the recipe, but if you actually read all my prose, you'll get a good sense of it.