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It's Easy, It's Classy, And It's So Damn Good
Daniel got jealous of my seafood post on Tuesday and wanted in on the action.
I’ll keep this short, but yes, reading about Mark’s never-ending shellfish dinner immediately made we want to write about cooking a giant, steaming pot of mussels or clams. Why? Because shellfish in spring brings me back to a very specific place and time: College, the end of it, when I mostly stopped doing homework and started committing considerable time and attention to lying in the grass.
More or less, this was also the period when I really started learning how to cook, and there are two dishes that consume my memory of those months. One was smoked ribs: A friend and I “borrowed” some plywood from the wood shop to build a smoker that basically ran continuously from April to graduation. It has since burned to the ground. A plywood smoker caught on fire—hard to believe.
The other was a giant pot of steamed mussels, a novice college cook’s dream. Mussels are cheap, they require one big pot (which is probably all that we had), they’re dead simple to cook, and they felt and still feel classy as hell. (All the same can be said of clams, except for the cheap part). I cooked mussels a lot that spring: with friends and for friends; with garlic and tomatoes and parsley; with white wine and cream; with coconut milk, curry, and beer; eaten inside on cruddy tables; and eaten outside on the grass. I cooked mussels and French fries for a Valentine’s Day date. We’re married now.
The fondness I feel for cooking and eating a pot of mussels or clams has not dissipated one bit over the years. It’s quick, easy, and elegant, you can vary the flavors endlessly, and at the very least its briny broth is one of the best excuses I know to eat an entire loaf of bread in one sitting. If you’re inclined, check out Mark’s recipe below, which celebrates the simplicity and versatility of steamed mussels or clams. There’s a main recipe with shallots, white wine, and parsley, then a chart with ingredient swaps for six different variations: French-style, Thai-style, coconut-curry, and more.
Thanks for indulging my shellfish nostalgia. I’ll let Mark come back on Tuesday. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend.
The simplest way to steam clams and mussels is to put them in a pot with some water. But it’s not that much harder to build in added flavors; you can vary the aromatic vegetables, the liquid, and even the last-minute stir-ins (check out the chart). When you’re done, there’s almost a whole meal in the pot. All you need is some bread or simply cooked rice, grain, or potatoes to sop up the broth. Or you can ladle spoonfuls over a bowl of pasta. Serve leftover clams or mussels cold in salads or spreads.
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