There's a Little Black Dress of dinner party dishes. It has an understated elegance, is easy to slip into, and pairs well with a nice bottle of white wine and a pearl necklace. It is always festively appropriate, and never fails to impress.
You'll never guess.
No, really. You won't, because it's not what you think.
Ok, done guessing?
The answer: Mussels.
Mussels are actually very versatile, and take well to flavoring. I'm lucky enough to live 2 blocks from a fantastic Mussel bar, St. Arnold's, which I don’t go to nearly as much as I should. It took me almost a full year of living in D.C to find this place, and it was only by chance. After a Hawkeye loss and a night of drinking, my friend and I not-so-soberly decided that we wanted mussels. Right. Then. Nothing could get in our way. So we called a friend of a friend who recommended a restaurant that he swore had the best mussel pots a couple neighborhoods over, and we jumped in a cab at midnight and talked to the cabbie about mussels and barnacles. (Bless him, that wonderful cab driver.)
St. Arnold's has a fantastic mussel selection and beer list. (Actually, I believe they're mainly a bar with a mussel specialty on the side, which absolutely blows my mind.) Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking. Beer is not Paleo. You’re absolutely right, it is not. But what have I always said? Live a little. That’s what I say. Always.
At St. Arnold’s, the types of mussels go on and on: Thai Basil Mussels, Italian red pepper mussels, duck fat mussels… yummmm
Surprisingly, mussels are so incredibly easy to make on your own. My favorite variation to make isn't a variation at all. It's the classic way, the Little Black Dress of mussels: the French way. (With a little Paleo twist, of course.)
When I'm trying hard to impress a dinner guest, but want to make it look effortless, I make this recipe. Also, it pairs well with a killer pair of black heels, a string of pearls, apron, and, you guessed it, a little black dress.
Bonus points if you light a candle for a, hmmmm, "Je ne sais crois..."
Serves 3 generously
- 3 lbs. fresh, live mussels*
- 1/2 finely chopped shallot
- 1 1/2 head finely chopped, fresh garlic
- 6 tbsp. fresh, chopped parsley plus extra to garnish
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 2 tbsp. duck fat (optional, you can substitute this with more butter, ghee, or another fat of your choice)
- 8 oz. canned coconut cream
- Salt to taste
- Chop shallot, garlic, and parsley.
- Add olive oil to pan and heat until shimmering.
- Add shallot, garlic, and parsley to oil until fragrant and just starting to brown.
- Add white wine and simmer in pan.
- While oil-wine mixture is simmering, add butter and duck fat. Whisk until melted, then reduce heat to low and let wine mixture reduce for a few minutes.
- Add coconut cream and simmer until sauce is well melded.
- Add mussels to pot and cover tightly with lid. Let mussels steam for about 10-15 minutes. Stir mussels briefly every few minutes.
- Mussels are done when the majority have steamed open.**
- Garnish with parsley springs for color.
*Mussels must be bought and served the same day. They can be stored in the fridge for some time, but they should be placed over ice in a bowl or container with open air. Mussels should never be covered in plastic. They are alive, so they will suffocate if they are derived of oxygen.
** Mussels are done with they have fully opened when steaming. However, in any batch of mussels, they're will be a couple that do not open. These are mussels that have died before steaming, and they should never be pried open and consumed. They can make you very sick.
Note: traditional mussels are served with either crusty bread or frites. (French fries.) Sweet potato fries don't work well with this, so I either give in and scoop up the sauce with some bread, or I will pour it over some white rice if I can't afford to go off the Paleo rails. Your choice, but don't waste that sauce. It's duckfatty gold.