ALE BRAISED MUSSELS, BELGIAN STYLE
Steak with Friends
by Rick Tramonto with Mary Goodbody
This is a fantastic dish to serve family style— and actually, I can't think of a better way of serving them than plunking a big bowl overflowing with the shiny black mussels in the middle of the table. And make that an outdoor table, if possible, because this is a messy appetizer (which can easily become a main course when doubled). Don't forget the toast for sopping up the briny, buttery broth at the bottom of the bowl—the best part for some folks. And don't forget the beer, either. I like Belgium-style beer because I associate mussels with that small, coastal country, but any local ale will do just fine. I usually buy one of the ales made by Goose Island when I make this, a local ale from a nearby brewery.
• 2 pounds mussels (I like Prince Edward Island mussels, if you can find them)
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 cup diced smoked country ham or prosciutto (about 1/4 pound)
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 shallot, minced
• 2 sprigs thyme
• 1 (12-ounce) bottle Belgian-style ale
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
• Juice of 1 lemon
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 crusty baguette, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
• Olive oil, for brushing
• 1 clove garlic, for rubbing
Holding them under cool water, scrub each mussel's shell with a stiff-bnstled brush. Remove the byssal threads (or beard), which connect the mussels to rocks in the water. Grab the fibers with your fingers and pull them out, tugging toward the hinged point of the shell.
In a medium-sized saucepan or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the oil over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the ham and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the ham is crispy and the fat has rendered.
Add the minced garlic, shallot, and thyme sprigs to the rendered fat and cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, or until soft. Add the mussels, stir to coat with the vegetables and pan juices, and cook for about 1 minute.
Add the ale, cover the pan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels open (Discard any that do not open.)
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter the parsley chopped thyme, basil, and lemon juice and toss to distribute the herbs and lemon juice and allow the butter time to melt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375°F.
Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and lay on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven, turning once, for 7 or 8 minutes, until nicely browned. Rub the toasted bread with the garlic clove. Alternatively, you can grill the bread for 4 to 5 minutes, turning once, and then rub with garlic.
Using a slotted spoon, divide the mussels evenly among 4 bowls or place all in a large bowl for the table. Pour the broth in the pan over the mussels and serve with the bread for dipping in the broth.