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New traditions. (MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER)

December 30, 2012

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When the Saints played the Colts in Superbowl XLIV (2010) I made up this dish, Mussels in Chorizo and Beer. It was the product of us being in a foreign neighborhood and running around trying to find cool ingredients for an extraordinary Superbowl concoction to make at our friends’ place. While it was being eaten almost no one yelled at the TV.

Even though it has no particular cultural alliance, once the mussels and chorizo came together I felt like it was reminiscent of something my Italian grandparents or great grandparents would have served back in the day. Back when Sundays were still a red sauce based, all day eating affair and calamari with the tentacles still totally freaked me out. (The ‘rubber bands’ were okay though.) All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would fight for a seat in the dining room, the losers sent to the card table parked in the back bedroom. I was the youngest and had my choice of laps to sit on, a great strategy especially at dessert.

The Christmas after that gourmet Superbowl when my cousins and I decided to honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. We simmered pounds and pounds (and pounds and pounds) of mussels in the garlicky tomato sauce studded with spiced sausage. A side of pasta for folks like my dad and sliced up focaccia for the dunkers. The table groaned under six more fish, two more pasta dishes, salads and sides galore. It was a beautiful sight. All of the foods we were most excited about, all at once.

In more recent years we have experimented with some other seafoods and we have learned how to reign it in. This year, back by popular demand, we made the mussels again. I think they might become a regular addition to the table. We have some traditions and they are not strict, but it is sure that favorites will make an appearance; manicotti, antipasto with the biggest hunk of Parmiggiano you have ever seen, killer seafood salad, rum cake. Somehow even a platter of sushi has made it into the yearly mix. Our feast grows and changes a bit each Christmas, as does our family and by the same token it has a strong foundation in our history and represents the memories we share however hazy they may be. (Next year I promise to nail down the recipe for Pete’s Seafood Salad That We Think Grandma Used To Make.) The resulting dinner, both nostalgic and new, reflects everyone who has participated in it. And out of love, it also reflects all of those who eat it.

MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER

1 pound chorizo or hot Italian sausage

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can beer

1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herb

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed

salt and pepper

  • Cook chorizo in a large saucepan, breaking it up into pieces until browned.
  • Remove meat with a slotted spoon and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  • Add butter to the saucepan and sautee onion, shallot, red pepper flakes and fennel seed with a touch of salt and pepper.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add beer and dill.
  • Bring to a boil again and add mussels.
  • When most of the mussels have opened and are cooked through, Remove them and arrange in a large serving dish. Pick out and discard any mussels that have not opened.
  • Boil the tomato mixture for about 3 minutes, add the chorizo back in and heat through.
  • Season well and pour over the mussels in the dish.

Serve with bread for dipping.

(Photo courtesy of Jackii Laurenzano)

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