A bowl of steaming hot mussels and a large hunk of crusty bread with which to dunk in the juices sounds like a wintry sort of thing to cook and eat. But summer is truly bivalve season: it’s food straight from the sea (or bay) onto your plate with not much of a stop in between, maybe a simple pot of boiling water (see: lobster). Dump a bunch of steamers on a picnic table and eat.
And so we bought a bunch of mussels, steamed them in the classic mariniere fashion (white wine, shallots), and ladled them into bowls, ready to devour. And then we were hit with a buzzkill as classic as the cooking method: the tiny mussel, a nugget of meat the size of a crouton. A bowlful of them, drowning in mussel juice like plankton in the ocean.
Like Moby Dick, a great bowl of mussels is something rarely seen yet worth a lifetime of searching. Once upon a time in a restaurant in the East Village a waiter set before me the ultimate bowl of mussels, each one fatter than the next, their shells barely containing the plump meat. Alas, since then I’ve been met with only disappointment.
On the plus side, serially dashed hopes can lead to innovation, which is why, resigned to a world of the midget mussel, I committed the heretical act of dumping out the cooking liquid in favor of a little dip of garlicky aioli. And it was quite tasty. Not as much as serving of bloated mussel morsels, but a sensibly delicious approach for the mussel lover.
Mussels and Aioli
Makes a big bowl
2 cups white wine
2 shallots, sliced
2 pounds mussels, cleaned
1 recipe aioli
- Add wine, shallots, and mussels to a big pot over high heat, cover and steam until open, about 3 minutes.
- Strain liquid into a bowl and reserve for another use.
- Serve mussels with a bowl of aioli on the side or, for an hors d’oeuvre presentation, squeeze a bit of aioli on shell and top with a mussel. Sprinkle with chives.
Makes 1 cup
4 cloves garlic, pureed
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup canola
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
- To puree garlic, chop, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and work into the cutting board, mashing to a puree.
- Combine lemon juice, garlic, egg yolk in a medium bowl and add oils in a thin stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.