Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mussels with Chorizo, Tomato, and Potato Stew

I impulse bought a pound of mussels at the farmer's market on Sunday. On the way home we went to a Mexican grocery store and bought fresh chorizo and small white potatoes, and by the time we got back to the apartment I knew exactly what I was going to make.

Chorizo, potato and tomato go wonderfully well together, and adding the mussels to such a flavorful base makes perfect sense. The mild mussels steam open while sitting atop the savory stew and absorb the aromas of the broth. I didn't use a recipe but there are tons of variations of this dish using the same ingredients, influenced by Portuguese and Spanish flavors.

Mussels are a great seafood choice because they are one of the most sustainable options out there. The prestigious Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists farmed mussels as a "Best Choice" when looking for a sustainable shellfish. Farmed mussels don't require feed, meaning that their cultivation doesn't results in the pollution of the water around them, unlike many other farmed seafoods (like imported farmed shrimp). Even better is the fact that if you live on either coast of the USA, you can get locally cultivated salt-water mussels much more easily than you can other sustainable seafood options.

Preparing the mussels takes a little time but not much actual work.

How to Prepare Mussels

1. Get the mussels home as soon as you can and if they are in a plastic bag, take them out asap or they can suffocate. Transfer the mussels to a bowl covered with a damp towel and refrigerate them until you are ready to use.

2. When you are ready to prepare the mussels (about 1 hr before you start cooking), you need to first examine each one carefully. If they are open, give them a rap on the shell with a spoon. If the shell closes, the  mussel is fine to eat. If it doesn't close, that mussels has died and shouldn't be eaten. You should also discard any mussels with cracked or broken shells.

3. Prepare a bowl of about 1 gallon of cold water mixed with 1/4 cup salt. Scrub each mussel to remove any grit or small barnacles. Some mussels have a "beard," a bunch of seaweed-like hairs coming out of the shell. Just firmly grip these and pull them out and away from the mussel, toward the direction of the shell's hinge. You can also just cut the beard with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. When you are done scrubbing and de-bearding, put the mussels in the cold salted water, and move the bowl to the refrigerator. Soak for 20 minutes.

4. After 20 minutes, change out the salted water. The mussels will be ingesting and squirting out the water they are in. which will help remove any grit from the shells, so you need to add clean water or they will just be re-ingesting the grit they already expelled. Let them soak in the new water in the refrigerator for 20 more minutes. Give them a rinse in fresh water, and they are ready to cook!

Mussels with Chorizo, Tomato, and Potato Stew


1 lb mussels, scrubbed and soaked
5 inch piece of of chorizo*, roughly chopped into chunks
4 cloves garlic + 2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 Cup chicken broth
1 Cup dry white wine
5 small potatoes, cubed
3 tomatoes from a can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/3 Cup tomato juice (from can of tomatoes)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 Cup cilantro, chopped and divided
1/2 Cup parsley, chopped and divided
1 green onion, sliced
Serves 2, with some leftover stew

1. Add chorizo to a large pot over medium heat and cook until the fat begins to render out of the chorizo and  the meat is slightly browned.

2. Add 4 sliced cloves of garlic and the onion. Saute until the garlic is very fragrant and the onions are slightly translucent, being careful not to burn.

3. Add the chicken broth and wine, stirring to get any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the potatoes, tomatoes and tomato juice, 1/4 cup of each herb and red pepper flakes.

5. Cook until the potatoes are almost tender.

6. Lower the heat and add the mussels and the remaining 2 sliced cloves of garlic to the pot. Cover and cook until mussels are opened wide, 5-7 minutes. Remove the opened ones and cook any that haven't opened up for a few more minutes; any mussels that don't eventually open wide should be discarded.

7. Remove remaining mussels from the pot and add the reserved chopped herbs and green onion to the stew. Stir until herbs are slightly wilted then spoon the stew over the mussels. Sprinkle with some fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread toasted with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.

* I used a semi-firm Mexican style chorizo. I would avoid using the pastier soft Mexican chorizos only because they won't add a lot of texture to the dish - but if that's all you can find it will still add lots of flavor. Portuguese Chouri├žo or Linguica, or any firm Spanish Chorizo would also work wonderfully - you could even use Andouille sausage.

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