This recipe is one from my archives, first posted in the early days of my blog but at the time I didn't get a picture of it. I'd made it when I had people over for dinner and the idea of holding everyone's dinner up while I got a picture was something I couldn't (still can't) bring myself to do. At the time I posted a picture of my dog instead which in retrospect seems a little on the overly-whimsical side. What can I say -- I was a beginning food blogger.
This is a spectacular way to prepare mussels. They're smoky, a little spicy, rich, and delicious, but kept from being overwhelmingly heavy by the lime and cilantro. The addition of the bacon and the richness of the sauce makes this a more substantial dish than mussels usually are -- good if you plan on serving mussels as the main course. Be sure to have bread to soak up the sauce which is so good you'll want to eat every single drop.
Mussels are one of my favorite foods for a gathering. Besides the fact that mussels are relatively inexpensive (I pay about $2.50 a pound), there's something convivial and light-hearted about any meal that involves a big bowl in the middle of the table where everyone tosses their empty shells. Eating mussels is an activity that makes stiffness and formality impossible.
They're also fast to cook and the biggest time-component of preparing mussels, the cleaning, can be done in advance. Actually the cleaning of mussels is no big deal these days. I buy farmed mussels from Tenants Harbor, Maine and the mussels are surprisingly clean. I usually rinse each one under running water to get rid of any sand on the shell, I remove any beards, and I check to make sure the shell isn't broken -- if it is, I toss it. I also toss any that are open and don't close when I tap on the shell.
Once they're cleaned, I store the cleaned mussels in a colander covered with ice. Mussels need to breathe so don't store them in the refrigerator. I'm also careful at the store not to let anyone put them in a plastic bag and knot the top.
I usually figure a pound of mussels per person if mussels are to be the main course. A pound will end up being slightly less than a pound by the time you've removed any mussels with broken shells or mussels that are already open.
This recipe from Michael Romano of Union Square Cafe was published in Food and Wine. I found it via The Best American Recipes 2003-2004. I say it every time I mention the Best American Recipe series and I'm saying it again: This is an exceptionally well curated collection of recipes. I've yet to cook something from it that I'm not happy with. I'm truly sorry that it seems to be being published no longer.
Mussels with Smoky Bacon, Lime, and Cilantro
1/4 pound thick-sliced, lean smoked bacon, cut into 1/2 pieces
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno, thinly sliced into rings, seeds removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
14 oz can of plum tomatoes, drained and finely chopped, or 1/2 pound of fresh plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 1/2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Cook the bacon in a large, heavy pan over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the fat. Add the shallots and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the wine and ketchup and simmer until reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
2. Increase the heat to high and add the mussels. Cover and cook, shaking the pan a few times until the mussels open, about 5 minutes.
3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to four large shallow bowls. Off heat, stir in the lime juice, cilantro, and butter. Ladle the sauce over the mussels.
Serves 3 to 4