Beer-Steamed Mussels alla Puttanesca

Like clams, mussels are best cooked quickly. They turn rubbery and dry if left too long in the pot. The trick is to add them to a small amount of rapidly boiling liquid in the bottom of a pot and cover immediately. Whatever you do, get hungry bodies to the table before you start cooking, because steamed mussels are best eaten freshly cooked and very hot. Good bread for sopping up the delicious spicy broth is essential. Grill bruschetta with a brush of oil and a rub of garlic to accompany the dish if you are feeling ambitious.

Yield: Serves 2 as an entree, or 3 to 4 as a starter

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds fresh Blue Mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded. [Note: Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales is a great source of sustainably farmed mussels in our area. For a list of where they can be purchased visit hogislandoysters.com.]
  • 2 tablespoons quality olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, cracked with the heel of your hand
  • 2 cups roughly chopped ripe tomato (substitute canned diced tomatoes when tomatoes are out of season in your area)
  • 1½ tablespoons brined capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup green Cerignola or other mild, fleshy olives, pitted and torn in half
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup Pliny the Elder IPA
  • Sea salt and sugar, to taste
  • Handful of Italian parsley or basil leaves, for garnish

TO PREPARE AND SERVE

Select a pot at least twice as large as the volume of mussels you plan to cook. Heat the pot well over a medium burner. Add the olive oil and garlic. Cook, turning often, for 30 seconds or until the garlic browns very lightly. Add the tomato, capers, olives and chili flakes. Continue to cook for 4 minutes, or until the tomatoes break down. Add the beer, then turn the heat to the highest setting and boil the mixture for 2 minutes. Season with sea salt and add a pinch of sugar, if nature didn’t already.

Add the cleaned mussels all at once, and cover the pot immediately. RESIST the temptation to peek for at least 3 minutes. Using a large kitchen spoon or Asian spider tool, lift the lid and turn the mussels up from the bottom of the pot. If all of the shells are not yet open, re-cover immediately and continue to check every 2 minutes until they are. When all the shells have opened, remove them to a warm serving bowl. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings as desired to balance the flavors. Pour the broth over the mussels and garnish with roughly torn fresh herbs just before serving.

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