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Mussels a la Serge
This is a wonderful recipe - when served it looks more like a mussel "soup" giving a rich experience where the taste of mussels is backed by the richness of cooked and spiced vegetables. It takes about two hours to prepare this dish - most of this time is needed to prepare a kind of creamy tomato and spinach soup which will be used to cook (and serve) mussels.
You will need (for four servings):
- 5.5 pounds of mussels
- 30oz of fresh spinach
- 3 pounds of whole tomatoes
- 2 mid-size onions
- 1/3 cup of chopped Italian parsley
- 9-10 mid-size cloves of garlic
- 2.5 fl oz of regular (original) Tabasco Pepper source
- 4 oz of unsalted butter
We prefer cultured (farm raised) mussels - they are bigger, have more meat inside, and free of sand and grit. If you are in the US, we prefer to buy them at Costco; in particular, we like North Coast Brand rope cultured mussels. Tomatoes you will be using are very important for the final taste of your dish. We use Contadina Whole Tomatoes - Contadina Crushed Tomatoes for some reasons yield slightly different taste.
Of course you will need a big pan - big enough to hold five pounds of mussels - and start with tomatoes crushing then by hand. Then you add chopped onion, minced garlic and parsley. If you use canned tomatoes (like recommended Contadina brand), add tomato juice; in either case you may need to add water so that all vegetables are covered with liquid. Start boiling vegetables on low heat - you will need at least an hour to cook them. Also add Tabasco source and butter. While boiling, keep watching - you may have to add once in while some water.
Meanwhile, wash and cut/chop/dice spinach - keep in mind that the goal is prepare a rather creamy base (where some texture is still desired - that's why we prefer to crush tomatoes by hand). Because of this, chopping spinach into small pieces help achieve this goal. Also, when you start adding spinach, keep stirring to spread spinach evenly in the liquid (spinach tends to form clots which is not desirable). Add spinach after 30 minutes since you started boiling vegetables, and keep boiling spinach for another 30 minutes.
When your vegetable base is ready, make sure it has this creamy thickness; if it has too much liquid, add more cooking time to evaporate it. Now, it's time to add mussels - increase heat to maximum since mussels, especially if they are cold, will bring temperature down. It takes 5 - 7 minutes to cook mussels fully - during this time it's very important that you keep stir mussels (do it gently not to break shells). Under high temperature they will start opening. Constant stirring will help spread and cover and, most important, fill mussels uniformly with the vegetable soup.
Be ready with white wine cooled enough to create great contrast with hot and spicy mussels - we recommend Italian white wine, for example, Pinot Grigio. Serve mussels on big plates; add on top enough spicy vegetables. Use your fingers to eat mussels; use shells to scoop more creamy substance according to your taste.