Saturday dinner part one: Beer mussels (plus marital advice)

2013-03-23 at 17-37-01AL DENTE’S TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE, NO. 15: Listen to your wife when she says that she does or does not like something.

For years, I’ve skipped ordering mussels at restaurants as an app or cooking them at home because I thought that The Wife did not like them. The Sister was home a couple of weeks ago. After years of eschewing seafood, she has fallen in love with it and is eating any fish she can get her hands on. During her visit, she asked what mussels tasted like. We talked about them and I mentioned that The Wife didn’t like mussels. Imagine my surprise when she said that she did like them.

AL DENTE’S TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE, NO. 22: Ask your wife if she likes something or whether she is willing to simply tolerate it.

2013-03-23 at 16-59-14How was that possible? How was it that for 10 years of marriage and the seven years of dating prior I believed that she didn’t like something. I could have sworn that she told me that she didn’t like mussels. It turns out that she likes them, but not as much as she likes shrimp, clams or scallops. After 17 years, we had broken new ground.

AL DENTE’S TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE, NO. 23: Stop trying to understand the difference between disliking something and simply not liking it as much as something else.

So on Saturday when I asked The Wife what she wanted for dinner and I got the response, “I wouldn’t say no to fish,” I sprang to action. Okay, so maybe not “sprang.” I’m not sure I’ve ever “sprang,” “sprung” or any other derivative of the verb “spring” before. I digress…

2013-03-23 at 17-00-58I like the idea of cooking with beer and I’ve seen restaurants like Moro’s Table and others steam create a broth using Belgian beer. Given my current inventory of craft beer, I thought that the best option for this recipe was New Belgium Brewing‘s 1554, a Belgian black ale produced by one of the official brewers of the Al Dente blog. It’s a rich, malty beer that wouldn’t wilt when boiled or mixed with the aromatics.

WHAT WORKED: Pancetta. Rather than using oil to saute the aromatics, Marvin Galputo’s recipe at Serious Eats called for bacon. My preference in these instances is pancetta, the salty cured Italian bacon that I dream about some nights.

AL DENTE’S TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE, NO. 62: Don’t worry if your husband dreams about pancetta. It’s perfectly normal.

WHAT DIDN’T: Nothing. This was spot on.

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: This is really tasty. I taste mustard. Is there mustard in here? (Yes. Yes there is.)

WILL THIS MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Likely during the summer. We might mix it up with another beer.

Beer-steamed mussels with pancetta
Adapted from Serious Eats

  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, roughly diced
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced (about 4 tsp.)
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup Belgian-style ale, or witbier
  • 2 lbs. fresh mussels, scrubbed clean and beards removed
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2013-03-23 at 17-12-35Place the bacon in a large stainless steel skillet set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Set bacon aside.

2013-03-23 at 17-18-24Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots soften and the garlic just begins to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the thyme to the pan and stir in the beer, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the beer begins to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cleaned mussels to the pan in a single layer. Place a lid on the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.

2013-03-23 at 17-18-36After 5 minutes, check the mussels. Using a pair of tongs, remove any mussels that have opened and transfer to a large bowl. Cover the pan again and simmer for another 5 minutes, transferring any opened mussels to the large bowl.

When all of the mussels are opened and transferred to the bowl, whisk the dijon mustard into the sauce in the pan. Taste the sauce and season with salt and black pepper. Keep in mind that the bacon, as well as the liquor given up by the mussels, are both salty, so not much additional salt may be needed.

Pour the finished sauce over the mussels, then sprinkle on the reserved bacon.

AL DENTE’S TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE, NO. 78: Share the reserved bacon with your spouse. A salty marriage is a happy marriage.

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