Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Olive Oil Mussels and Clams

In our financial consulting business, there was an industry conference held every year in Barcelona. Ostensibly, you went there to learn about the latest in financial technology and structuring. We went for the parties. Not that a bunch of bankers are the most stimulating of party companions, but among the bunch of serious analysts and boring lawyers, there could be found some party animals, generally the veterans in our industry who had seen a bit too much to care about what a banking vice president (title sounds impressive but actually indicates a banking slave) had to say about credit risk on mezzanine securitization tranches. We tended to stay out late drinking, have dinner, more drinking, and stumble to our hotel rooms at about 3am. By 1pm, we were vaguely conscious and in search of lunch…and a drink. A brief afternoon siesta, and we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by six, just in time for cocktails. Please don't think we are hedonists. As you may know, it is customary in Spain to take a siesta after lunch--indeed most shops are closed for some hours in the afternoon, making shopping for, say, a new handbag, a very frustrating experience...but that is another story. Anyway, because of this siesta, dinner is customarily taken very late. So really, by adhering to this schedule, we were trying to adapt to native life. It's trying sometimes, but one does one's duty.

One year, on our departure from Barcelona, they were having some sort of strike at the airport. Some sensible people left very early for the airport in order to minimize the risk of missing their flight. We went to lunch. The restaurant was called Els Pescadors and located in a tiny square in the outskirts of Barcelona (This restaurant is still there but from their website, the menu is completely different now). We had a feast involving the freshest seafood and fish…amazing rice and beans…to be honest, I don’t remember it all. But it was wonderful. Equally wonderful was phoning our friends at the airport. They were sitting in the dreary airport waiting for their plane which was delayed for hours, eating stale sandwiches and sipping warm coca cola. We were sitting outside in the sun, drinking wine, and eating spectacular food. Five hours later, we strolled into the airport and got directly onto our delayed by 3 hours flight home. Ahhh...sometimes life is good.

One dish that we had at Els Pescadore was a dish of sautéed mussels and clams. It was simple and breathtakingly delicious. Our attempt to recreate it is pretty good also. One caveat: As with all very simple dishes, the quality of this dish is reliant on the quality of the seafood. If you get sweet, fat, plump, juicy mussels, the dish will be fabulous. Sadly, unless you live in Belgium or the Netherlands, this is unlikely to happen by buying any old random mussels. Our hit ratio for mussel nirvana when living outside Belgium has been maybe 30%. I wish you more luck.

Take lot of mussels or clams, or both.

A lot of good olive oil.
A lot of garlic. And I mean a lot. Like two heads. Just peel until you get too bored to peel, and then peel a few more for good measure. Chop.

Turn on your broiler. Then, on the stove, take a very large frying pan or other dish that can go both on top of the stove and in your broiler, pour in the olive oil, and turn up flame to high. Put in the garlic, sauté a moment, and then put in the mussels and clams. Cook and continuously stir until the shells begin to open, which takes just a few minutes. Take the pan off the stove and shove in the broiler. Leave in the broiler until the mussel shells start to crisp at the edges, somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Check them every few moments, and stir, as they can go from cooked to burnt very quickly. Take out of the broiler and put on the table. Sprinkle some chopped Italian flat-leafed parsley on top, if you want to be fancy. Eat immediately with crusty bread to soak up the juices.
There will be a lot of juices in the pan. If you don’t slurp them up with the mussels, you can save this juice and make a great pasta dish for the next day. Shell remaining clams and mussels, if any. Take some spaghetti and boil in water, as normal, but only cook half-way. Drain the pasta and put back in pot with mussel juice. Cook until one minute before al dente. Add in shelled clams and mussels to heat. Throw in a bunch of chopped green stuff: parsley, arugula, or watercress all taste good. Serve in bowls with plenty of the juice.
PS. Never ask the goddamn Barcelonians for sea urchin late at night..they will serve you something else and then just lie to you about the ingredients. It is my experience that they will maintain this lie even after you extremely eloquently and courteously (after about three bottles of wine) point out to them that they are lying bastards that will be first against the wall when the revolution comes. DS /Peter


Michael Kerr said...

Bravo Berkeley! I look forward to holding you to some of these menu claims, at your table...soon. My growing China TV biz is bringing me to SF on a more-often basis. And I like your easy, breezy yet cosmopolitan style-- unlike all the prevailing oh-so-hip-am-I blogstylists

Nancy said...

Yum! This is the mussel dish you made for me! I bought one of those Spanish ceramic dishes so that I could imitate it.