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A Simple Recipe for Mussels That will Amaze You

Cast_iron_pan We are returning to the Abluelita's for the upcoming holiday, and I've been talking with her about what we'll eat over the weekend. The Abluelita would like to have mussels. This is great. Nina, Santa Maria, and I love the bivalves (though Pinta has yet to develop a taste for them.)

When I make mussels at home, I follow a magnificently simple recipe. I use no other ingredients. None. It's hard to convey just how delicious they turn out when cooked in this fashion. Most people associate mussels with white wine and a soupy sauce. They're good that way, too. They're even better this way.

I've been cooking mussels in this fashion for years. I learned about the method from one of Mark Bittman's columns. He developed an interest in preparing the mollusk this way after a visit to Barcelona, where they toss them on a hot grill, "a la plancha." Bittman later saw a chef in San Francisco, Reed Hearon of the Black Cat, replicate this method using a cast-iron frying pan, and Bittman adapted the recipe for home chefs.

I've been Barcelona and San Francisco, but I haven't eaten mussels there. It makes perfect sense to me, though, that residents of those seaside cities would favor cooking them this way. The method is extravagant and down-to-earth at the same time. They come out smoky and salty.

My only concern about making mussels at the Abuelita's is that she doesn't have a cast-iron frying pan. That's the most important part of the recipe, besides the mussels themselves. There's a chance that there's an old one that belonged to my grandmother buried in the garage, but there's no guarantee. I might have to make mussels the more traditional way, with wine and garlic and herbs. It's what the Abuelita wants anyway. Anyone have any recipe suggestions?

Mussels a la Plancha

  • 1 pound mussels
  • 1 cast-iron frying pan

        Rinse the mussels well and pull any beards off them. Use only the intact ones that are completely closed.
        Heat the cast-iron pan until hot.
        Place the mussels on the pan in one layer.
        Cook over high heat until the mussels open, release their juices, and the juices boil off. When the    liquid is gone, the mussels are ready.

        Notes: I typically make this with about three pounds of mussels and use two cast-iron pans at the same time. Serve the mussels in the frying pan. Just put it on a pad on the table and enjoy. The pans will develope a salty and smoky residue. Rub the mussels in it before eating. And if you want, you can melt some butter and serve it with them, but it's really not necessary.

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