Market Matters- A Mussel Amour!

Steamed Museels with Mustard and Saffron BrothSteamed Mussels with Mustard and Saffron BrothIt’s spring and I am feeling romantic. Which is different than frisky, though not much.

I have that song in my head:
April in Paris. Whom can I run to? What have you done to my heart?

But this damn economy has me too afraid to spend a dime. So no Paris for me or my sweetie.

Nope, we are stuck in L.A.

Besides it’s Sunday. That indicates it’s time for another Market Matters.

Which further means a trip down the hill to the Hollywood Farmers Market. Already my mood is improving. 

Maybe we can’t get to Paris. But the weather is warm. We could sit on the Great Lawn at Griffith Park and have a lite repast!

Something very Parisian. Something very Bistro.

Mussels in a warm mustard saffron sauceMarket Matters are usually wide open. I usually choose whatever strikes my whim. But this week I have parameters. I am right in the middle of my tribute to mustard. I am determined to keep posting ideas for the condiment until the hills return to their natural state of smog brown. As long as they are sunny golden yellow, it’s nothing but mustard for me.

But this is not really a problem.  I know just the thing.

The Hollywood Farmers Market is way more than fruits and vegetables. We have artisanal local cheeses. We have California grass fed beef. We have a fishmonger, and we also have a great and very sustainable aqua-farmer who brings wonderful bi-valves to the market all year round. That silly R month rule is pretty much ignored in Los Angeles. Not that the R is absent in April, which of course means I have digressed.

Mustard (as I said in my tribute to mustard) is tres francais! So I am going to pair mustard and saffron in a flavorful broth with fresh steamed mussels. It’s not quite the same as April in Paris, but it makes me feel glamorous all the same.

If you adore steamed mussels (and you should) then you will find they reappear throughout your life. They become a comfort food. This is not merely my opinion. It’s just a simple truth. Just try and refute it!

This is because mussels are easy to get, inexpensive, sustainable when properly harvested, and lend a party-like festive atmosphere to any meal. They are fun to share and can be prepared in just about any manner. From perfectly simple to piss elegant!

Today is a pic-nique so we are doing simple. All we’ll need to go along with this dish is some good crusty bread and a Blanc de Bourguignon. Which is a Chardonnay grape.  But it is typically a bit more subtle than the big oaky chards we do in CA. So it will feel very springy (not bouncy, I meant spring-like).

Since we are eating this on the lawn there are a few steps to assure that the mussels will travel well. 

The most important step is to pack the mussels separate from their broth. I’d like the dish to be served warm but if I put the mussels and the hot broth in a thermos together, we will not be happy campers. Er, well, I mean lawn-sitters. 

But I got ahead of myself.

a picnic of steamed mussels saffron garlic mustard breadMussels are beautiful to look at. It’s part of their allure. They are also a food you really connect to. Each one is eaten individually. You use your fingers. You stick your face in the bowl of steaming broth. It’s a very sensual experience (in both senses of the word). You dip bread in the bowl, sometimes. Sometimes not. Making each bite…each mussel distinctive and personal. Completely of the moment and that makes me happy.

One more thing about mussels. Mussels are best when they are petit. They are sweeter and firmer. It’s tempting to gasp in awe when you see big honkers…but they will never be as special as their petit amis.

In this recipe I am using 2 traditional French ingredients for shellfish, saffron and the aforementioned moutarde. In this case it’s fine to call the moutarde an ingredient. Typically it is a condiment. But not today. 

I don’t make the rules. Calm down I know what I said before– get over it.

The dish is simple. Melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter in a large moule pot over medium heat. Once the butter bubbles, but before it gets brown add shallots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low.

Cook this mixture about 2 minutes. Le nez will tell you when the time is right to move on.

At this point add 2 cups of a dry white wine. Bring the heat back up and let the liquid come to a boil.

Once it boils, bring the temperature back down to low, and  reduce it for a few minutes. I have a pet peeve about people who reduce liquids at a high heat. It just bugs me.

Once a little viscosity is built in, add the saffron to the pot. Then remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a lid. You want to keep all that saffron essence inside your pot. After all you just paid beaucoup d’argent for it. Let the liquid sit for a few minutes. You can also do this hours in advance, letting the broth wait at room temperature and re-heat it at serving time.

When you are ready to serve whisk 1/3 cup of Dijon mustard into the prepared broth. Bring this to a simmer (not a boil). Too much heat will nullify the mustardy piquance which we want to impart into our mussels. 

Add the clean and de-bearded mussels to the pan (de-bearded? Why can’t we just say shaved??)

Turn the heat up a bit, cover the pot and cook about 2 minutes, quickly remove the pan from the heat. The mussels should have opened up and look spectacular! Toss in a few tablespoons of chopped parsley and give it a good grind of black pepper.

mussels in a broth with garlic, saffron and mustardYou may serve immediately.

But I planned mine for a pic-nique. So I carefully removed my mussels taking the time to keep them in their shells. I then brought my broth to a raging boil and put it into a thermos. The picance from the mustard is now cooked into the mussels a bit, so the extra high cooking heat won’t bother the broth. I told you I don’t make the rules!

I let the mussels cool somewhat and put them in a bowl to travel. Which I loosely covered with foil. I did not want them to continue cooking.

When we got to the park I tossed a few mussels into the bowls and poured a little hot broth over them. We’ll break some bread and pour some wine.

It’s just a snack and a nice excuse to drink good French wine.

Of course it’s April. The park is filled with young lovers, walking hand-in-hand. Each plugged into their own i‑Pods. Somehow they manage to walk hand-in-hand and continue to text. I just wonder. Are they texting each other? 

Oh to be young and in love. Toujours L’amour!


Greg Henry