Moules Mariniere (Mussels in White Wine Sauce)

My favorite fish market brought in a special type of mussels this week – Bangs Island Mussels. Based on their recommendation I of course had to try them, so I ordered two pounds and did a bit of research on these little guys. Bangs Island Mussels are grown on ropes suspended above the ocean floor, by a father and son team dedicated to ocean sustainability and premium quality. The mussels spend their entire life in the water column in cool, clear waters of Casco Bay off the coast of Maine. They are positioned away from sandy, silty tidal areas, and as a result accumulate almost none of the grit you usually find with mussels. They are hand harvested, and I was happy to find have excellent flavor and an extremely high meat-to-shell ratio.

Bangs Island MusselsPhoto courtesy of Bangs Island Mussels.

When buying mussels make sure they smell like the ocean and do not give off a fishy odor, and don’t buy any with cracked shells. Mussels that refuse to close their shells when you handle or tap them are most likely dying or dead and should be discarded. Try to cook mussels as soon as possible, unwrap them when you get home. If you have to wait to cook them, place the mussels in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel so they can breathe.

I love mussels cooked simply, so the full flavor of the mussel shines through. Moules Mariniere is a classic French preparation and a light way to prepare them, steamed in white wine and served in a sauce made from the cooking liquid, butter and shallots. It is great for an appetizer or a light lunch, and wonderful with a glass of white wine and some crusty French bread.

Moules Mariniere

2 pounds of mussels
1/2 cup dry white wine, I used Castle Rock Chardonnay
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced
1 Baguette or loaf of French bread

Prepare the mussels by scrubbing them under running water, and discard any that are wide open or refuse to close when you handle them. Check the closed mussels to see if any still have their beards, long hairy threads which anchor the mussel to surfaces. Pull the beard out slowly and strongly toward the hinge of the shell. After the mussels have been scrubbed clean and debearded, add them to a bowl of cold, salted water for 10-15 minutes, use 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water.

In the bottom of a large pot, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Drain the mussels from the salt water and add them to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. As the mussels cook, they will release their highly flavored liquid into the wine. Cook until the shells have opened, and the mussels are just cooked, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, carefully remove them from the pot and place in a bowl, including those that have freed themselves from the shell.

Let the liquid in the pot settle for a minute or two, so any grit left settles to the bottom. Gently pour the cooking liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the grit in the pot to discard later. If the liquid is still gritty, filter it through a cheesecloth or coffee filter.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. If you like your sauce to be a little thick, I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of flour to the pan. Stir to combine and make sure there are no lumps of flour. Slowly add a cup of the reserved mussel cooking liquid to the sauté pan, stirring a minute or two over medium heat to create a smooth sauce. Add the minced parsley to the sauce.

Place mussels in serving bowls, and pour some of the sauce over each bowl of mussels. Serve immediately with your crusty French bread for dipping. Serves 2 for a light lunch or 4 for an appetizer.

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Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon

During my recent trip to Seattle, I had a fantastic Cedar Plank Roasted Wild King Salmon at SeaStar in Bellevue. Absolutely had to create this at home, so I armed myself with a new cedar plank for roasting from Plank Cooking, John Howie’s Passion & Palate cookbook (chef/owner of SeaStar) and several rubs. I’ve tried this a couple of times and found I like Tom Douglas’ Salmon Rub with Love the best. Tom’s rub has a good amount of brown sugar, which caramelizes on the salmon during roasting and imparts a very subtle sweet hint to the fish.

I also use Faroe Island Salmon in this recipe instead of Wild King, as it’s in season. I get all of my fish and seafood from Clean Catch. They have the freshest fish in Charlotte, and work hard to provide their customers with the best sustainable, wild and free range fish available. The Faroe Islands are a small, remote group of islands in the Atlantic between Norway and Sweden. Fish represents more than 96% of their total export, and they are committed to sustainability. Their salmon thrive in strong, fresh currents in pristine waters with a steady sea temperature. Many praise this salmon as the highest quality Atlantic salmon.

Here’s my take on this delicious dish.

1 lb Faroe Island Salmon, thick cut
Tom Douglas’ Salmon Rub with Love (or rub of your choice), two tablespoons for a pound of salmon
1 lb button mushrooms, halved
1/2 Vidalia onion, wide slices
1/2 lb baby carrots, chopped in large chunks
1 lb Dutch Yellow baby potatoes, halved
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt
Olive Oil

A day before, work the rub into the salmon and put it back into the refrigerator.

Prepare your plank; if it’s new, you should lightly brush it with olive oil. Heat the oven to 400 deg and move one of the racks to the second from the top position in your oven.

Chop the vegetables and add them to a bowl big enough to mix them easily. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables, and grind pepper and salt to taste. I also grind over a Thyme/Lemon spice mix I got at Trader Joe’s for an extra kick. Stir the vegetables to coat them with the olive oil and spices.

Place your salmon on the plank, and surround it with the vegetables.

Cedar Planked Salmon ready to go into the oven

Roast the salmon for 25-30 minutes, until it is done to your liking. Plank cooking takes a bit more time than regular roasting. Check the salmon 20 minutes in to make sure it’s to your taste. Enjoy!

All Things Seattle

I recently traveled to Seattle to attend an offsite for business. My mom was able to join me for the week, so it gave us some quality time together and see what Seattle has to offer. I have been to Seattle a number of times for business, and I love the Pacific Northwest. There is water everywhere around Seattle and it’s a really neat city.

Monday night we went out to dinner and had an amazing meal at SeaStar in Bellevue. Foodie that I am, I’ve resisted trying shucked oysters after an incident when I was younger. Wasn’t crazy about the texture. I figured since I was in Seattle, I’d give them another try. I ordered one Treasure Cove oyster on the half shell to try it. One slurp and I was sold, we each ordered a dozen Treasure Coves on the half shell. An exquisite start to our meal! The sommelier talked with us for a bit, and we decided on a somewhat local Pinot Gris, Adelsheim 2011. It turned out to be a very good compliment to our main meal of Cedar Planked Wild King Salmon, with Citrus Rice and Smoked Broccoli. The salmon was outstanding, best I’ve had in a number of years. If you love fish and seafood, I highly recommend SeaStar; I enjoyed this meal so much I brought my colleagues there on our last meal before flying out Friday night. It’s definitely pricey, but well worth it.

I attended the offsite four of the five weekdays I was there, but was able to take Thursday off and spend it with my mom. We started off our day at the Seattle Aquarium. The Seattle Aquarium is located on Pier 59 off Alaskan Way in downtown Seattle. It’s not as big as I thought it would be, but was a great experience. The Sea Otters were the thing I wanted to see the most, and they didn’t disappoint. Happily swimming around and playing with each other in their exhibit. This one guy was super active, and swam around in front of us most of the time we were watching them.

Sea Otter at the Seattle Aquarium

The reef exhibits were wonderful, full of vibrant fish and colors.

Reef at the Seattle Aquarium

Angel Fish at Seattle Aquarium

A kid at heart, I am always drawn to the ‘touch’ exhibits. The Boston Aquarium had a great one when I was there – baby stingrays. They feel just like velvet sliding under your fingers. The Seattle Aquarium had two major touch exhibits, they were both filled with starfish and anemones. The starfish were harder than I thought they would be, like running your finger over a pebbled surface.

Starfish at the Seattle Aquarium

The anemones were beautiful. I’ve never touched one before, they are velvety smooth and the tips of them grab your fingers in a soft way.

Anemone at Seattle Aquarium

Anemone at Seattle Aquarium

After our aquarium tour, we decided on Elliot’s Oyster House for lunch. More oysters! 🙂 They have a fantastic selection and we ordered a dozen to start. They have a dedicated shucker, and are serious about their oysters. Again a delicious start to our meal. I had the Halibut Fish and Chips, very good for a quick lunch selection.

Elliot's Oyster House Oyster Selection

We made our way to Pike Place Market after lunch. I’ve been there numerous times before, and it was a first for my mom. She loves open markets like this and we wandered around, buying things here and there for a couple of hours. I almost regretted already having lunch when we hit the Fish Market, as they had fresh crab and shrimp to go. The lobster tails they had for sale were huge!

Fish Market at Pike Place Market

Jumbo Lobster Tails at Pike Place Market

After the Market, we walked over to Totem Smokehouse to pick up some smoked Salmon to bring home. I first discovered a new appreciation for smoked salmon when I was staying at the Westin in Bellevue a month prior for another business trip. I ordered a Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict (actually it was called something else and I don’t remember the name). One of the best breakfast meals I’ve had – a whole wheat English muffin topped with wilted spinach, smoked Salmon, a poached egg and a citrus hollandaise. Room service this good?? Only at a Westin. I aim to create this one at home, look for a post coming soon. 🙂

Salmon Benedict at the Westin in Bellevue

My mom and I rounded out our day with dinner at Wild Ginger in Bellevue. Another one of those ‘must eat here’ restaurants when in town. We started with the Hanoi Spring Rolls and a special appetizer – Bacon Wrapped Grilled Oysters (yes, I made an exception and actually ate the bacon). The oysters were divine. I am convinced some day I should move to the Pacific Northwest just for oyster season. My mom ordered Pad Thai for a main, and I ordered the Wok Fried Barbeque Prawns. These were delicious. Huge prawns in a somewhat spicy Asian BBQ sauce over Jasmine Rice. And did I tell you about the drink? I had three of these! Their Cracked Coconut Martini is a semi-sweet explosion of creamy wonderfulness. A frozen martini of pineapple rum, muddled lime and coconut. Overall a very tasty close to my day together with my mom.

Seattle has a lot to offer. Explore it.