August 7, 2013

Mussels in a Spicy Chirozo Sauce by Eric Wilson

The impetus behind this was to provide at least some finger food to accompany a bottle of Spanish wine that I had been really looking forward to opening (1994 Torre Muga).  I figured maybe this, some cheese, olives, and how wrong could it go?  (Update: the olives unfortunately didn't make it to the event, they're just so damned tasty!)  Anyways, I'm guessing that after I mentioned the wine served, I induced a few cringes from those of whom that know something about wine and food pairings.  And I'll admit, while both delicious on their own, neither one did anything to elevate the other.  This certainly would be better with something more along of the lines of an IPA, a well-executed Pilsner, or a Spanish white such as an Albarino or Godello.  But, while channeling an often repeated sentiment from my youth as I was for at least a bit of time a Chicago Cubs fan, there's always next time.

2 lbs mussels (scrubbed and debearded)
6 oz chorizo (casing removed)
1/2 medium onion (finely diced)
3 cloves garlic (crushed and finely chopped)
1 T harissa (recipe below)
3/4 cup dry white vermouth (or any dry white wine)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cilantro (or parsely if you're one of those that think cilantro tastes like soap)
1-2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
Choice of aromatics (thyme, bay leaf, optional)

For harissa:
1 medium red bell pepper
1 t cumin
1/2 t coriander
1/2 t caraway
2 dried red chili peppers
1/4 t salt
1 T olive oil
Special equipment (coffee grinder, blender)

Using a saucepan large enough to comfortably fit all of the mussels, get a dry pan nice and hot on the stove top, medium-high should to the trick.  Once the pan is hot, dump in the mussels, and pour in your vermouth.  Cover immediately and cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Shake the pan periodically so that the mussels on the bottom are replaced by the ones resting on top.  Once the mussels have opened, pour through a strainer and make sure to reserve any liquid from the pan.  Transfer mussels to a large bowl, and cover with saran wrap to keep warm.

Return the pan to the stove, heat the olive oil (or a combination of butter and olive oil depending on your tastes), and add your onions once your oil is hot.  Cook the onions for just a few minutes so that they are tender but without color.  Add in your chorizo, and work well enough so that you break it down into small crumbles.  Cook until the sausage has a nice sear to it, and no longer appears raw.  Add in your crushed garlic, salt, a good twist of pepper, and harissa.  Cook for about a minute or two.  
After the harissa has turned a bit darker, and the garlic no longer tastes completely raw, pour in the juice from the strained mussels.   Make sure to leave out any sediment that may have accumulated.  Depending on how much juice you have, simmer the sauce until you get it nice and salty (probably reduce by no more than half).  Then pour in your chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, add aromatics if using, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then, remove aromatics (if using) and pour in enough heavy cream to add richness to the sauce, but not so much so that it becomes gloppy (trust me, there's plenty of fat that is rendered from the chorizo already in the sauce providing richness, your really don't need too much cream, plus you want it nice and spicy!).  Add the mussels back into the sauce just long enough to heat through, sprinkle with chopped cilantro or parsley, and serve with plenty of crusty bread.

For Harissa (Can be done up to a week in advance)

Courtesy of
Under a very hot broiler, place the pepper on a broiling pan and cook for about 20-25 minutes.  Turn about every 5 minutes or so in order to blacken the skin on all sides.  After roasting, place the pepper in a brown paper bag and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, using a small skillet over medium heat, place all of your spices (chilies included) in the pan and toast.  Shake the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.  Once the spices are slightly browned and fragrant (shouldn't take much longer than 5 minutes), remove from the heat, transfer to a spice grinder, and grind your mixture into a fine powder.

After the pepper has cooled, removed the skin (which should be extremely easy) chop coarsely, and place in a blender.  Add your spice mixture, garlic, salt, and olive oil to the pepper, and puree into a paste.  Done and delicious.

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