[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
If you took a poll asking home cooks to rank their favorite ingredients for putting together easy weeknight meals that don’t break the bank, mussels probably wouldn’t crack the top 10 on most peoples’ lists. But they should! Fresh, farmed mussels are cheap, delicious, require very little prep, and you can have a steamy, brothy bowl of them on the dinner table—with plenty of charred toasted bread for dipping, of course—in 20 minutes. Sounds pretty great, right? If you’d rather peel and devein, or even worse, defrost, a bunch of shrimp instead, that’s your journey.
As Kenji has pointed out before, mussels are “the easiest choose-your-own-adventure, one-pot meal around.” For this mussel adventure, we paired them with another one of our favorite weeknight dinner flavor-bomb ingredients: ‘nduja.
‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable fermented pork sausage that originated in the southern Italian region of Calabria. Most cured sausages have a three-to-one lean-meat-to-fat ratio, but ‘nduja flips that ratio and boasts a three-to-one fat-to-meat ratio. This high fat content gives ‘nduja its soft, spreadable texture and allows it to easily emulsify and meld into sauces, stews, and the like. ‘Nduja brings plenty of floral heat from crushed Calabrian chilies, which comprise 30% of the sausage mixture, and it’s also lightly smoked and fermented, giving the sausage great depth of flavor with a nice funky finish. All of that, along with its long shelf life, makes ‘nduja a great ingredient to keep in your fridge to give recipes a flavor boost.
For this recipe, we start by lightly rendering ‘nduja with shallots and garlic, before adding white wine and mussels to the mix. Slap a lid over the saucepan, crank up the heat, and a couple of minutes later, you’re rewarded with perfectly steamed mussels that have opened up and released their flavorful, sweet, and briny liquor to form a spicy-savory broth with the ‘nduja and white wine. A splash of lemon juice and a fistful of chopped parsley really ties the room together. Just make sure you have plenty toasted crusty bread on hand for dipping and dunking because that’s probably the best part of a mussel feast.
Why It Works
- The high fat content of ‘nduja allows it to easily meld and emulsify with the aromatics, white wine, and mussel liquor, lending the broth floral heat from the Calabrian chilies and meaty richness from the pork.
- ‘Nduja’s salty, fermented tang complements the creamy sweetness of steamed mussels.
- Affordable, quick-cooking mussels are perfect for easy weeknight meals, along with flavor-bomb ingredients with a long shelf life, like ‘nduja.
- For the Mussels:
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large shallots (3 ounces; 85g), thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves (10g), thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 2 ounces (1/4 cup; 60g) ‘nduja (see note)
- 1 cup (240ml) dry white wine
- 2 pounds (900g) mussels, scrubbed and debearded (see note)
- 1/4 cup (15g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice and 1 teaspoon (2g) finely grated zest from one lemon
- For Serving:
- 1 loaf rustic sourdough bread, thickly sliced, drizzled with olive oil, and broiled until heavily toasted
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots and garlic, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add ‘nduja and, using a wooden spoon, break it into pieces and stir vigorously to combine with shallots and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until fat from ‘nduja separates and shallots and garlic are stained red and fully coated with ‘nduja, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add wine, increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
Add mussels, stir, cover, and cook, shaking pan constantly and peeking every 30 seconds to stir. Cook just until all the mussels are open, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and using tongs, quickly transfer mussels to a warmed heatproof serving bowl. Cover mussels with saucepan lid to keep warm. Add parsley, lemon juice, and zest to saucepan and stir to combine. Taste the liquid, and adjust seasoning with salt if needed.
For Serving: Remove lid from the serving bowl, and pour contents of saucepan over mussels. Serve immediately, passing toasted bread at the table along with a large empty bowl for collecting spent mussel shells.
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