The Muscles from Brussels broke my sink. Make that Mussels from Whole Foods..

31 Oct

Friday we had my friends Mike and Betsy over for a joint birthday dinner. Her birthday is the 21st and mine’s the 30th, so we combine them each year for a nice night out. This year we decided to stay in, but to make it festive, I wanted to get a bit experimental in the kitchen.

The tricky thing is that Betsy is a vegetarian, which isn’t where my mind immediately goes when I’m thinking of new flavors. I like a protein that was once breathing on my plate. So I got crafty and decided to make steamed mussels for the first time.

And because I’m an overachiever (and somewhat indecisive), I decided to make mussels two ways – one in a Curry Cream sauce, the others a more traditional sauce of fresh tomatoes, wine and parsley.

 

So a few things for people out there who have never prepared mussels:

From the moment I purchased them at Whole Foods (a ten minute walk from my house), I felt like I was carrying the Nuclear Football. The guys at the fish counter gave me good advice – don’t tie the bags shut, keep them on ice or put them in the fridge, rinse them but don’t submerge them… etc. – but it was like getting instructions on my first babysitting job ever. There was SO MUCH to remember, I was convinced these mussels would die on my watch.

And yes, there’s some irony for you. I am going to kill these mussels, but I don’t want them to die before I’m ready. Seems a bit sadistic, no?

So I rushed them home, and put them in the refrigerator. Through the bags, I could see that they were opening in what I imagined to be some final gasps of breath. (I don’t know why, but I started thinking of the shells as mouths.) I was a bit alarmed that they were suicidal, so I broke out the computer and googled “will mussels die in my fridge?”

I couldn’t find any kind of confirmation, so I just started prepping ingredients and pacing. When Alan arrived, I was a Stress Cat. “But you don’t understand!” I greeted him. “I am afraid the mussels are DYING as we speak! This is going to be a disaster!”

Alan assured me that restaurants wouldn’t serve mussels if they were that trigger-happy, which offered me some reassurance that they might not die prematurely, or that if they did, I wouldn’t accidentally serve a bad mussel and kill someone.

Just before Mike and Betsy arrived, I decided we should clean the mussels. Mussels have “beards” – hairy fibers that hang out of the shell. Although most cultured mussels are already debearded when you buy them, there are a few stubborn suckers that insist on making YOU yank the beard off, which is not fun and not for the weak handed.

We then scrubbed each mussel individual (the car wash) and gave it a good “thunk” with our finger to make sure it would snap shut. Those that weren’t tight got pitched. We were through the first 50 mussels when Mike and Betsy wheeled in. In retrospect, while Betsy is fine with seafood, she probably was somewhat horrified to walk in and see us confirming that each creature was still alive. (For our next trick, well throw lobsters in boiling water after letting her pet them.)

The mussels turned out great. Restaurant quality – and there was only one mussel that failed to open, so Whole Foods gets a thumbs up for the quality of their catch.

The only failure of the night was my foresight. We scrubbed and debearded the mussels in my sink. When we were done, I rinsed the beards down the garbage disposal without thinking.

Until this morning, when I noticed that the water was slow to drain from my sink and I went to run the garbage disposal. And it made no noise and smelled hot. Damn. I’m going to guess some bit of shell was attached to a beard and has jammed up the gears.

In an attempt to manually solve the problem (and prevent my house from smelling like compost when I return from Chicago later this week), I stuffed my hand down the disposal (while it was off, of course). I pulled out pulped tomato bits, parley pieces, onion, and some chunks I couldn’t identify, as well as some of those tell-tale beards.

I’m pretty sure I now know what a veterinarian feels like when he goes in up to elbow to deliver a calf.

Actually, now that I think of it, maybe this is why Betsy is a vegetarian.

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