Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bowl of Mussels for Anthony Bourdain

This month's Cook The Books choice is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. The tale of a chef on the restaurant frontlines in NY, this book made an enormous splash when it was first published. Bourdain brings us alarming tales of poor hygiene and drugged up chefs, as well as allegations of supplier racketeering and managerial incompetence, all against an ultra macho kitchen background. It's a place where a posse of guys treat each other in the same way that I imagine soldiers or pro-footballers or any other male only gang would - simultaneously taking each other apart, while watching each others backs. Readers who are prudish about language, drugs and sex are probably best advised to read something else - but they are also probably people who have never been near this kind of professional kitchen.

This is the second time I have read Kitchen Confidential - the first time I was completely swept along by the anarchy. This time my favourite parts of the book are the tiny details of the restaurant world eg who would have imagined that reach-ins have no light so chefs need to find everything by touch. Or that the lousy pieces of meat are saved for people who ask for it well-done (glad I don't). Or that patissiers are the obsessive compulsives of the kitchen world (well maybe we all could have guessed that one..) I was also amused by Bourdain's tips on what to avoid in restaurants. Among them:
- bargain sushi
- fish on a monday
- brunch
- swordfish
- and of course mussels.

Bourdain opines that "I don't eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. It takes only a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group... If I'm hungry for mussels, I'll pick the good-looking ones out of your order."

So in honour of Anthony Bourdain, I have made mussels. Mussels are now being lauded as an environmentally friendly choice, they are cheap and they are about the fastest thing you will ever cook. The liquid at the bottom of the pot is also delicious - make sure you have some good bread on hand to sop it all up.

Moules Marinieres
(my version adapted from Stephanie Alexander in "The Cook's Companion")
1 onion or 2 shallots, chopped finely
1 hot chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 large tomato chopped finely
1 bay leaf
Five peppercorns
500ml dry white wine
2 kg mussels, cleaned and debearded

Tip mussles into a large wok with onion, peppercorns and herbs. Pour in wine, cover tightly and turn the heat up to high. In 4-5 minutes, open the lid, remove all mussels that have sprung open. Allow unopened mussels to cook for a minute longer, then remove those that have opened. Any that are still unopened should be thrown away. Strain pot juices over mussels and serve.


Anonymous said...

I love Anthony Bourdain and all his witty, interesting books. He is such an amazing writer!
I read that book about 3 times, and laughed each time at his caution about fish on a monday. I learned so much things from him!

Foodie with Little Thyme! said...

I love mussels but I have never cooked them before. Maybe I should.

Debinhawaii said...

Great post! I love mussels and I did stop eating them in restaurants for awhile after I read his book the first time, but started up again because they are just too good. These look wonderful!

Rachel said...

Ah, mussels. Great choice for this month's book pick!

FoodJunkie said...

I love mussels and can never find them cooked like that in Greece. Good luck!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

i love mussels, another delicacy that is expensive here, as well as rare - coincidentally, in hania where i live, we can buy get new zealand mussels. in greece, the local variety of mussels is much smaller

as foodjunkie says, mussles taste good when they are cooked like the ones in your photo - and they have to be big!

Foodycat said...

Mmmmm mussels! Excellent choice for showcasing the book (and well done on going to Stephanie Alexander for guidance! She'll never steer you wrong).

I must confess, my husband and I don't cook our best meat when we have "well-done" meat eaters around. We'll do chicken or something instead.

I noticed that Bourdain has moules marinere on the menu at Les Halles. Do you think people snigger when they order them?

girlichef said...

Yum, I love mussels, too...I'm fortunate enough that I've never worked in a place where you had to be scared of the mussels :) I love that they are so simple to prepare (but only the freshest!!).

Coco Bean said...

I didn't finish the book this month but when I cooked mussels lately ALL I could think about was that short paragraph in the book about restaurant mussels. Great job

Simona said...

After reading Bourdain's take on mussels, I told my husband. It is an interesting perspective. Great choice of recipe!