Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We're talkin' food here, too.

Rick here.

Okay, I wasn't going to make this my entry for the week, but the entry I'm working on needs a bunch more research. Since we've been discussing food and drink, I thought I'd jump in with my absolute favourite summer recipe: grilled mussels.

First of all, this must be done as I outline. Don't waste your time trying to make these indoors under a broiler, or in your fancy gas barbecue. It just will not taste the same. I know. I've tried.

Here's what you'll need:

Mussels (8-12 per person as an appetizer, 18-24 as a main course)
Olive Oil (really primo stuff. Don't go cheap)
Freshly Ground Pepper

Get some of those cookie cooling racks, the square ones made out of wire (you probably already have a couple of these). The spaces between the wires are just perfect for setting the mussels on, keeping them upright (that's important). You should be able to fit about 24 mussels on a standard rack.

Shuck the mussels and put them on the half shell. It's a bit tedious until you get the knack. The easiest way is to slide a pocket knife under the widest part of the shell, after you've pushed the two halves apart slightly with the fingers of your non-knife wielding hand. Slide the blade completely across the shell until it comes out the other side, and then move it down the shell, cutting the tendons that hold the shell shut. After that, release the meat on one half of the shell by cutting around underneath and dumping everything into the other shell half. Lay onto the cookie rack and move on to the next one. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't hard to do. My wife and I can prepare 6 dozen mussels in about 20 minutes.

When the mussels are all shucked, put 3-4 drops of olive oil on each one and follow with a small grinding of pepper.

To cook the mussels, get a whole lot of small, dry twigs. Grape trimmings work wonderfully, or use prunings left from your fruit trees (what we use), or just find a whole bunch of twigs. If you've got kids, this is a great assignment for them.

In a flat spot, lay out some of the twigs at least as big as the dimension of your cookie racks. You're going to lay the mussels on their racks right onto the fire, so you might want to bend some old coat hangers to help with the lifting. We use 14-gage wire I bought in a roll at Canadian Tire. I bent them into a "C" 12 inches to the side with hooks bent into the ends.

Light the twigs and when they're burning merrily, lay on a mussel rack. They will cook in a VERY short time. We're talking maybe a minute or two. Watch for them to pull back from the shell and bubble a bit. Don't cook them until they completely dry out! If your fire still has enough heat, put on the next rack, and so on. Since you're using small twigs, they don't last long, but they burn very hot.

Serve those mussels immediately! They get cold fast. We just tip them into our mouths. Serve with a warm baguette to sop up the juices, and a chilled bottle of a nice, dry, French rosé. Add a tossed salad of your choice, if the mussels are the main course.

By putting the mussels right on the fire, they get a wonderful smokey flavour. We have never made these for someone and they haven't been completely knocked out. Bon appetit!

And now back to research for next week's entry...

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